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Greenwashing: How to Spot it

How misleading information can change the way we perceive the world's largest companies.

What is greenwashing?

One of the major talking points amongst the public, global leaders, activists and many other groups of people over recent times is the effect climate change is having on our planet, whether this is through regular discussion, protests made by activists in order to gain attention on an extremely important matter or various global climate summits, where some of the most influential people in the world discuss and put plans in place in order to find solutions to climate change. Due to this, for companies to keep their positive perception from the public, they need to act environmentally friendly and deliver messages to the public that they do act in an environmentally friendly manner in order to show that they are concerned about climate change, whether they actually do care is what this article will be discussing.

The term greenwashing can be defined as:

"Greenwashing is the process of conveying a false impression or misleading information about how a company's products are environmentally sound". Investopedia.

How do companies greenwash?

As mentioned above, greenwashing is the idea of using false or misleading information to seem like a more environmentally conscious business, therefore it is no surprise that major companies across the world use this tactic in order to seem more environmentally friendly and sustainable even when their actual operations shows they are doing the opposite.

One way in which companies greenwash is specifically only mentioning the positive environmental benefits of the products, and then purposefully leaving out the damaging negative effects of the same product. This method is known to be the most popular method of greenwashing amongst companies as research suggests it is the reason for 57% of greenwashing cases.

Another way in which companies greenwash is when making claims about their products environmental performance, the claims used are either difficult to dispute or aren't specific enough for the pubic to pick up on. Therefore by companies doing this, they are ultimately restricting the chance of consumers or pressure groups being able to firmly make a case of the company greenwashing.

Companies can also greenwash by using information that to most consumers may seem positive, however the information stated is frankly pointless. For example, some harming chemicals used in products are banned by law in certain countries, therefore if a company is to state that the product is free of the certain chemical, whilst on the surface this may seem positive, the statement is irrelevant.

How to tell if a brand is greenwashing?

As we have discussed so far, greenwashing is very prevalent amongst many major companies, and these companies have multiple ways of disguising their greenwashing, therefore because of this, how can we as consumers determine what is and isn't greenwashing.

One way we as consumers can determine if a company is greenwashing is to check the sustainable activity of the business, seeing what work they are doing to reduce climate change, what they are doing within their own practice to reduce the effects and what the goals and ethics are as a company. If this information is limited and the business use many vague keywords such as "green" and "sustainable" without any evidence of that work being done, this is a big indicator of greenwashing.

Another way to tell if a company is using greenwashing to appear more sustainable is to see what parts of the business or specific parts of their products they are aiming to make more sustainable. For example, a company making minimal parts of their operations more sustainable to use as an example of how they are becoming more sustainable, rather than focusing on improving the most vital part of their operation which is causing most of their environmental damage is another potential spot for when looking for hints of greenwashing.

What are the risks and consequences business face when greenwashing?

Throughout this article, we have discussed the ways in which companies greenwash, and how you can spot it, however, it a company is to be found greenwashing, what are the consequences that they may face?

One consequence a company may face if it is found to be greenwashing is the massive negative impact it has on a company's reputation, as consumers will be less trusting in their brand, meaning a potential lower interaction with the company and maybe even stop being a customer with the company as the trust between the two is lost.

On top of this, not only could it ruin the reputation of the company, it could also hinder future endeavors the company may want to pursue in the future. An example of this could be if the company actually wanted to focus heavily on its ethical practice, and if it was to do so, many consumers and other groups may be non-trusting and skeptical in their operations as the company has mislead people before on a similar subject, therefore if the company wants to become sustainable, they want have to build a high amount of trust before doing so.


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