What is greenwashing and how can you avoid it?
When a sustainability claim is too good to be true, that’s probably greenwashing
April 22nd is Earth Day, a day when people around the world celebrate our planet and all that it has to offer. This year, it also happens to be the 45th anniversary of the first greenwashing campaign. That's right, greenwashing has been around for quite some time! So what is it exactly? And more importantly, how can customers and companies avoid it?
What is greenwashing?
Greenwashing is a marketing tactic used by companies to make their products or services appear more green and environmentally friendly than they actually are. Companies use greenwashing to create the false impression that their brand is eco-friendly, when in reality they may be taking very few steps towards sustainability. Greenwashing can take many forms, from green logos and green advertising campaigns to green claims about a product's environmental benefits.
One example of greenwashing is when an energy company advertises its green energy sources, but most of its energy still comes from non-renewable sources. Another example is when companies claim that their products are made with recycled materials, even though they only use a tiny fraction of them. Finally, greenwashing often includes companies claiming that their products are carbon-neutral or climate-friendly when they are not actually doing anything of substance to mitigate their emissions.
Why do companies use greenwashing?
Companies use greenwashing to gain a competitive advantage as well as for public relations purposes. By making green claims about their products or services, they hope to attract more customers and build customer loyalty. Greenwashing also helps them to reinforce their perceived Corporate Social Responsibility, which is when companies strive to act ethically and contribute to society in positive ways.
Why is it bad?
Greenwashing may seem like an effective way for companies to stand out from the crowd, but it can actually have negative consequences.
When consumers believe they are buying green products that aren't, it leads to false information being spread about green initiatives and green products. Greenwashing misleads customers into thinking they are doing something good for the planet when in reality, they may not be taking any real action to reduce their environmental footprint. It also undermines legitimate green initiatives and green companies that are actually taking steps to reduce their emissions and create green products. Moreover, it encourages greenwashing tactics from other companies in order to stay competitive, which can lead to a further lack of transparency in green initiatives.
Finally, greenwashing is also bad for the environment because it can distract from actual efforts to reduce emissions and promote sustainability.
How can customers recognise greenwashing?
If you are a customer and want to avoid greenwashing, there are a few steps you can take.
First and foremost, make sure to do your research and look into a company's green initiatives before buying its products. Ask questions about the company's green initiatives and check out independent sources, such as environmental organisations, which can provide reliable information on green initiatives You can also look for products that have green labels or certifications, such as the Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS) and Green Seal.
Speaking of labels, make sure to read carefully those on the products and watch out for claims such as "carbon-neutral" or "sustainable materials": if they sound too good to be true, they probably are - so take the time to investigate further before making a purchase.
Finally, stay up-to-date on green initiatives in your local area and around the world to be able to identify false claims.
How can brands avoid greenwashing?
If you are a brand that wants to avoid greenwashing, here is what you can do:
- Start by setting clear green targets and developing an action plan: Determine what green initiatives your company should implement and track progress over time.
- Make sure to communicate these green initiatives transparently, without exaggerating or misleading customers about the green nature of your products. You have several tools to give your consumers transparent information about your business choices, your supply chain, and the sustainability of your products. Some of these are smart labels, digital product passports, web apps and, of course, authentication methods.
- Invest in green labels and certifications to demonstrate the green credentials of your products or services, such as Green Seal, LEED certification, or Eco-Labeling.
- Ensure that you are held accountable for any green claims you make: if a customer is unhappy with a green initiative, make sure you follow up with them and take feedback into account for future green initiatives. But, first of all, choose honest marketing: don't lie, don't promise things you can't deliver, and don't use deceptive claims.
By following these steps, you can stay away from greenwashing and ensure that your green initiatives are legitimate and meaningful. Remember that greenwashing is an unethical practice that has the potential to undermine consumer trust not only in your products but in green initiatives in general.