A topic that hits close to home (literally) is a hot one these days: greenwashing. Organizations have been scrambling to make their brand look ‘greener' on the outside. But are they really? More and more companies make claims of being ‘green' in order to look better, even their competitors are doing the same. It's getting a little ridiculous. Today we're focusing on greenwashing: What is it, who’s doing it and how to spot it.
What is greenwashing?
The term greenwashing refers to organizations that unsubstantially claim their products and/or services are environmentally friendly. The goal here is to trick consumers thinking their purchases don’t have a negative environmental impact, while the opposite is often true. The term was coined by environmentalist Jay Westerveld in 1986.
Buyers end up being duped by companies and organizations, paying a premium for products with grand, unsubstantiated, claims with nothing to back them up.
Who’s doing it?
To give you a quick answer: from energy conglomerates to premium consumer brands.
Chevron comissioned a series of expensive television and print ads (named: People Do) to convince consumers that Chevron cares about the environment. Back then the public mostly got their information from television, radio and print: media that these giant companies flooded with slick ads. The campaign showed Chevron employees protecting cute, cuddly animals. These commercials are considered the golden standard of greenwashing.
A more recent example is Kim Kardashian’s SKIMS brand. The Changing Markets Foundation claimed the brand made false claims, exposing them as ‘greenwashers’. The brand claimed the packaging being compostable, claiming ‘I AM NOT PLASTIC’ despite the small print on the packaging stating its plastic type 4 or LDPE (low-density polyethylene).
On of the most common examples of greenwashing are companies using terms “ocean-bound” or “recyclable” plastic to tackle the plastic pollution crisis. This does not mean these terms signal a greenwasher, just that these terms are used by greenwashing companies. Geroge Harding-Rolls, campaign manager at Changing Markets Foundations says:
“Our latest investigation exposes a litany of misleading claims from household names consumers should be able to trust. This is just the tip of the iceberg and it is of crucial importance that regulators take this issue seriously.
“The industry is happy to gloat its green credentials with little substance on the one hand, while continuing to perpetuate the plastic crisis on the other. We are calling out greenwashing so the world can see that voluntary action has led to a market saturated with
How to spot it?
You’re probably angry, feeling misled and want to avoid this mistake ever again. I agree, but how do you spot a greenwasher? Sadly it’s not a black-or-white situation, but a few signals can be:
- Fluffy language: terms that sound give the impression of a clean brand but have no clear meaning (eg eco-friendly or produced sustainably).
- Greening dangerous products (eco-friendly cigarettes?)
- Providing data without a clear source or proof of originality
- Declarations from companies that are slightly less worse than their competitors (trust me, Shell hasn’t ‘cleaned up’ their act).
You can also use online tools and search engines to help you find sustainable brands, like Project Cece or Ethical made easy.