I’m standing in a petrol station facing a wall of bottled water. The choice is extensive and most of the labels show graphics of nature, the colours are blues and greens, and they talk of water from natural springs and sources. While the brands try to emphasise their green, environmental credentials, I am always confused by the effort to avoid the obvious fact that the water I want to buy is in plastic bottles, has been transported to the petrol station by lorry and will end up in landfill or in our oceans. The bottled water industry markets its products as natural but nothing in the product packaging is natural and there seems to be no effort to try to move to more natural materials in the packaging. This is greenwashing. Greenwashing is when an organisation misleads consumers, through its marketing, into trying to make itself appear more environmentally conscious than it actually is.
How vague claims mask the real environmental impact of products
Many companies today are just as guilty. Like the bottled water industry, many brands use words such as green, eco-friendly, natural together with images of nature to try and greenwash us into believing these vague claims. Vague claims, however, just build mistrust amongst consumers. Consumers who demand sustainability and real green credentials are becoming aware of the tactics of greenwashing and are demanding real facts. Many consumers understand that it takes time to change large organisations to become more environmentally friendly, but trust is broken when companies are obviously lying about their products and are making no effort to reduce their carbon footprint. Consumers these days are suspicious of many brands who make vague claims. A company that is more honest about its stage in the process of moving to more green products is more likely to win the confidence of the consumer and build a devoted following.
The risks of greenwashing: Why consumers demand ‘real’ green credentials
Honesty about the brand’s environmental credentials come from honest facts and figures. Claims need to be clear and easy to understand and details quoting specific units of measurement will create a greater feeling of trust in the consumer. For example, a brand that claims it produces a t-shirt made out of “eco-cotton” is less likely to be believed by the consumer than a company that says it uses a cotton made out of “100% organic cotton”. This is because the term “eco-cotton” is vague, undefined and could be interpreted in many ways.
The internet makes it more difficult for organisations to hide. As well as researching the sustainability of a product, consumers will also research the sustainability of a company. An organisation cannot just produce a sustainable product but will have to be ethical in its processes and practices too. For example, a t-shirt may be made from 100% organic cotton but will lose consumer trust if it is made in a sweatshop in poorer parts of the world where workers work in bad conditions and are paid so little that they cannot sustain a certain quality of life.
Consumers will be more suspicious of organisations that claim to make green products but make vague statements about their sustainability practices. Vague data will give the impression of greenwashing. However, good, accurate data about sustainability targets and timelines on an organisation’s website as part of their promise will give the consumer a feeling of trust and will allow the consumer to hold the organisation accountable to its promises.
The importance of transparency: How honest facts and figures build consumer trust
Transparency can ensure that there is no disconnect between an organisation’s artificial and genuine concern and commitment to the environment. If the transparency is absent and the organisation is found to have been lying about its commitment to the environment, then its attempts to greenwash and therefore deceive the consumer will end in a long-lasting breakdown of the brand as well as other brands from an unethical company.
Greenwashing doesn’t wash with today’s consumer
To conclude, greenwashing is a term used to describe an organisation that spends more money on trying to make itself look greener whilst not making efforts to reduce its impact on the environment. It is when an organisation makes false claims that the company or its products are environmentally friendly. The tell-tale signs of greenwashing include a lack of transparency and vague claims on the part of the organisation that are used to try and hide inadequate efforts to be more sustainable. Ultimately, greenwashing does not benefit anyone. The most important thing is that a company is on a journey to become greener and to be honest about what they are doing to change to make a better future for the planet. Any company that continues to pollute and damage the environment is deceiving consumers and itself as bad environmental practice will end in disaster for everyone.