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What Is Greenwashing and How Do We Spot It?

How businesses today are misleading the public.


Enterprises and conglomerates today are focused on bringing sustainability and climate action into their business showing to the public how they are trying to help the environment however there is a different side that the public doesn't see.


What is greenwashing?


Greenwashing is a term used to describe when a business/enterprise advertises or markets their product alongside environmental values and climate change matters to deceptively persuade the consumer that their products, aims and policies are environmentally friendly.


Greenwashing has changed over the last 20 years, but it’s certainly still around. As the world increasingly embraces the pursuit of greener practices, corporations face an influx of litigation for misleading environmental claims.


Companies that have engaged in greenwashing on a wide scale have made headlines over the years.

Some examples of companies that have come under fire recently due to their principles and the way they have handled the greenwashing of their advertisements include Nike, H&M and Coca-Cola.


Coca-Cola: greenwashing professionals?


Waste contributes to about 20% of human driven methane emissions globally having a big impact on the way we live and the environment we live in. Plastic bottles are a key source of this with 86% of the bottles ending up in landfill as stated by OfficeH20 and the Container Recycling Institute.


In a recent report, created by Coca-Cola in January of 2021, they state that:

"At Coca‑Cola Great Britain, we are committed to achieving 100% recycled or renewable plastic in all of our bottles, as part of our ambition to make our packaging as sustainable as possible. We’re making great progress on this journey, and now we’re very excited to reveal that all our plastic bottles of 500ml or less appearing on store shelves in Great Britain are made with 100% recycled plastic. This milestone means that we have increased the amount of recycled plastic in our smaller bottles from 50% to 100%."

However recent research has shown that they have been greenwashing this campaign and lying to the consumer about how much recycled material actually goes into making a plastic bottle.

"We use at least 25% recycled material in all of our plastic bottles. That’s a figure we're proud of – we already buy and use more recycled plastic than any other food or drink company. To ensure our packaging is as sustainable as possible, we are going to go further and double the amount we use to 50% this year – in every bottle across all 20 of the brands we sell."

This just goes to show how much a company will blatantly lie to a consumer in order to try and promote their product over the sustainability of the world and the fight to tackle climate change as a whole.


According to Greenpeace's USA Plastics Project Lead Kate Melges, in July of 2022, she claimed that:

“Just because a plastic bottle is recyclable does not mean that it gets recycled. Coca-Cola’s recent announcement is yet another blatant greenwashing attempt from one of the world's worst plastic polluters. Instead of turning off its plastic tap, Coca-Cola is continuing to produce billions of throwaway bottles every year, impacting our health and harming our oceans, our climate, and our communities."

Being the world's worst plastic polluter, the drinks giant produces about three million tonnes of plastic packaging a year - equivalent to 200,000 bottles a minute which obviously has an impact on climate change significantly therefore proving the fact that they are greenwashing the whole situation.


How to spot greenwashing


Greenwashing is quite easy to spot if you know what you're looking for from a consumers perspective.


A product that has been greenwashed shows signs such as if its labels are green or its packaging is green, and the rest of the company's products come in a different style of packaging. Colours send powerful messages to customers, we often associate feelings with colours. Lots of people associate the colour green with nature, which often gives products the impression that they are environmentally friendly.


If you are seeing words like 'sustainable', 'natural' or 'organic' - this can be a sign that it's greenwashed. Sometimes the product or service that they're describing is only partly sustainable or organic, and the company is over-promoting these parts of the product. If you're not sure, check the ingredients label or if it's an item of clothing, see what materials it's made out of.


If recycling is only partly recyclable it's still not sustainable and it shows that the company is not completely invested in protecting the environment. It can also make it harder for you to recycle responsibly. Sometimes companies might also claim their products are made of partly recycled plastic, but that doesn't mean it's sustainable packaging, for example Coca-Cola only using 25% recycled material as part of their '100%' recyclable bottle.


Companies may try to appear more environmentally friendly by offering to donate part of their profits to causes like carbon offsetting. Carbon offsetting can be a great way to neutralise the impact of a product, but not all carbon offsetting schemes are made equal. If you see that a company is saying it donates to carbon offsetting or a similar cause, like planting more trees, it's a good idea to research more about what these projects involve.


Conclusion


Overall, Greenwashing is used by a wide array of multi million pound companies to promote the use of their products that induce a worsened climate that consumers will pay for in the future. In my personal opinion, Greenwashing shouldn't be used in any circumstance and businesses should have to pay for the use of Greenwashing as it is false advertising and pollutes the mind of the consumer and doesn't help the climate as much as a company may say that they alleviate.


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