What Is Greenwashing?

Ensure your company isn’t damaging customers’ trust by greenwashing – making false claims that your company or products are environmentally friendly.

  • When a business presents itself as environmentally sensitive for marketing purposes but in reality, isn’t doing any significant sustainability measures, this is known as “greenwashing.”
  • Even with the best of intentions, businesses can engage in greenwashing.
  • The majority of American customers do not accept firm claims about their sustainability measures as a consequence of greenwashing.
  • Business owners that want to make sure sustainability claims in their marketing materials are legitimate should read this article.

Whitewashing has undoubtedly come up at least once in the context of business. When an institution presents a skewed version of the facts, it engages in “whitewashing,” which is the deliberate concealment or glossing over of scandalous material. However, greenwashing isn’t as widely known.

When a company spends more effort and money on portraying itself as environmentally friendly than on actually reducing its environmental effect, this is known as “greenwashing.” It’s a dishonest marketing ploy used to deceive customers who like to purchase goods and services from companies who care about the environment.

We’ll describe greenwashing, how it harms brands, and how to prevent it.

What is greenwashing?

The phrase “greenwashing” was first used in 1986 by environmentalist Jay Westervelt in a critical article that was motivated by the irony of the “save the towel” campaign in hotels, which had little effect beyond saving hotels money on laundry bills. The concept was developed at a time when the majority of customers relied on print, radio, and television for their news, making it impossible for them to fact-check as they can now.

Over the years, companies that participated in widespread greenwashing have garnered media attention. For instance, in the middle of the 1980s, the oil firm Chevron commissioned a number of pricey print and television advertisements to promote its commitment to the environment. However, Chevron was actively breaking the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, and pouring oil into wildlife refuges throughout the now-famous “People Do” campaign.

Unfortunately, Chevron was not the only company making ludicrous claims. Advertising for the double-hulled oil tankers from the chemical corporation DuPont in 1991 featured aquatic creatures dancing to Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy” in chorus. The corporation ended up becoming the biggest corporate polluter in the US that year.

How greenwashing harms, a brand’s reputation

Although it has evolved over the past 20 years, greenwashing is undoubtedly still a thing. Corporate defendants are being sued more frequently for making false environmental claims as the world adopts greener practices.

For instance, the Alliance to End Plastic Garbage (AEPW), a nonprofit organization with headquarters in Singapore and financial support from major oil and chemical firms like Shell, ExxonMobil, and Dow, claims to be investing $1.5 billion to clean up plastic waste in poor nations. In spite of this ostensible objective, AEPW not only broke its commitment to clean up the Ganges River in India, but also its member groups continued with plans to increase plastic production.

Even the bottled water business makes an effort to exaggerate how green it is. How many plastic bottles have you seen with vibrant labels depicting untamed mountains, clear lakes, and thriving wildlife?

According to Philip Beer, vice president of marketing at Sightline Payments, “the fundamental premise has not changed.” “Exaggerating the advantages of the product or service is the number one infraction,”

According to Beer, overzealousness is more often the source of greenwashing than deliberate schemes to deceive.

It’s simple to understand why marketers are enthused: According to Green Print’s 2021 Business of Sustainability Index, 75% of millennials and 64% of Gen X customers would pay extra on a product if it came from a sustainable business.

How to avoid greenwashing

Here are 10 common brand greenwashing techniques to avoid if consumer demand for sustainability is the barrier to our transition to a more sustainable, equitable, and intelligent global economy.

Fluffy language: terminology with unclear definitions, such as “eco-friendly” or “natural.”

Green products vs. dirty company: Be wary of hypocrisies, such as energy-saving light bulbs produced in a polluting business that damages waterways.

Evocative pictures: visuals that offer an unreasonable appearance of being green (e.g., flowers blooming from exhaust pipes).

Designations that are just not credible:  Be wary of overt attempts to “green” a harmful product in order to make it look harmless. (Anyone want eco-friendly cigarettes?)

Imaginary friends: Use caution when using labels that appear to be third-party endorsements but are untrue.

Outright lies: Never utilize information that is wholly made up.

There are many socially conscious companies who share their environmental tales with the public, as well as several that do not yet should. There aren’t many instances of “pure greenwash,” which involves telling a product’s environmental effect lies on purpose. However, there are several cases that are nearby.

beer recommends businesses to train their marketers on the morals of green branding and calls the phrases sometimes used to “greenwash” a “slippery slope.”

Tips to avoid inadvertent greenwashing

Use the following strategies to ensure that your company is not greenwashing.

Make your claims clear and easy to understand. Include particular certifications and verified endorsements from reputable third-party eco-organizations, such as the Sierra Club or Greenpeace, as well as specified units of measurement (for instance, “70% organic cotton” rather than “made with organic cotton”).

Back up your sustainability claims with data.  Anywhere you make sustainability claims, be sure that the data you are using is up to date and readily accessible. Only make use of verifiable info. Include reputable third-party certification from organizations like the Forest Stewardship Council, Rainforest Alliance, Carbon Trust Standard, or Energy Star, if at all possible.

Compare apples to apples. Make careful to compare the same product type when comparing the sustainability of your goods to that of a rival to avoid deceiving customers.

Clean up your operations. You must practice what you preach by incorporating sustainability into your company strategy if you want to sell your items as environmentally friendly. Implement sustainable techniques in your distribution, trash disposal, and production processes.

Be honest about your brand’s sustainability practices and plans.  Inform customers on the environmental friendliness of both your brand’s particular items and your business’s general sustainability initiatives. Be clear when describing your goals and timeframes so that customers may hold you accountable.

Make sure images on ads and packaging are not misleading. If your items or brand are not environmentally friendly, don’t imply that they are by using the colour green or pictures of trees and flowers.

Difference between green marketing and greenwashing

Between green marketing and greenwashing, there is a delicate line. Green marketing, as opposed to “greenwashing,” refers to the practice of businesses promoting their goods and services as being environmentally beneficial.

A product or service must satisfy the following requirements in order to be considered “green” in marketing terms.

  • Manufactured in a sustainable fashion
  • Free of toxic materials or ozone-depleting substances
  • Recyclable or produced from recycled materials
  • Made from renewable materials (such as bamboo)
  • Not made of materials harvested from a protected area, or that negatively impact threatened or endangered species with their harvest
  • Not manufactured with slave labor or by workers who are not fairly paid
  • Does not use excessive packaging
  • Designed to be repairable rather than disposable

However, when a company doesn’t adhere to the requirements of sustainable business operations, green marketing may easily turn into greenwashing. Some of the often-used names that may confuse and mislead customers include “eco-friendly,” “organic,” “natural,” and “green.”

If you’re prepared to put some grass on your logo, be open and honest with them about your business’s procedures and have data at your disposal to support your assertions.

Transparency and corporate social responsibility

According to Deandra Jefferson, a former office manager for an undisclosed sustainability group, “greenwashing is actually in a corporation’s best interest,” in an interview with Business News Daily. Even if the idea of corporate social responsibility exists, it is extremely uncommon for firms to uphold it, and when they do, it’s usually just to boost their own image.

In other words, greenwashing only helps a business when it successfully dupes consumers. Artificial and sincere environmental concern may be reconciled via transparency.

Patagonia, an activist outdoor apparel business, is one instance of openness. Patagonia, in contrast to other businesses, is honest about its use of chemicals and its environmental imprint. The corporation’s sustainability goal is to “fight to become a responsible company,” according to its mission statement.

According to the firm’s website, “We can’t represent Patagonia as the model of a responsible corporation.” “Neither we nor anybody else we know does everything a responsible firm can do. However, we can describe how we came to understand our social and environmental obligations and how we went about fulfilling them.

Try your best to convey the sustainability story of your business while avoiding greenwashing. We all know how expensive a trip to the cleaners can be, and it’s a nasty habit.

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