Greenwashing is the process of providing misleading information about how a company's products are more environmentally sound. It is a problem as it means that businesses can lead consumers who have every intention of being part of the solution towards being an unwitting part of the problem.
Over the last 20 years greenwashing has changed dramatically but it is still around. Even the bottled water industry overrepresents its greenness. Terms such as "all natural", "eco-friendly" and "farm fresh" are typically red flags when considering greenwashing.
The core theme has stayed the same." - Phillip Beere, vice president of marketing at Sightline Payments
How to avoid greenwashing
There are many things you can spot and take into consideration when making a purchase. Here are some tactics you can use to avoid greenwashing according to Business News Daily:
Fluffy language: Don't throw around words or terms with no clear meaning (e.g., "eco-friendly" or "natural").
Green products vs. dirty company: Watch out for hypocrisies, such as efficient light bulbs made in a factory that pollutes rivers.
Evocative pictures: Don't use branding images that give an unjustified green impression (e.g., flowers blooming from exhaust pipes).
Designations that are just not credible: Look out for obvious attempts to "green" a dangerous product to make it seem safe. (Eco-friendly cigarettes, anyone?)
Imaginary friends: Don't use a label that looks like a third-party endorsement but is actually made up.
Outright lies: Never use totally fabricated claims or data.
Why is it harmful?
Language matters especially when it misleads. When it affects the planet and people the truth becomes more important than just being the right thing to do. Bad actions can be kept under the radar when positive, social and or environmental actions are happening. Meaning that businesses can lead consumers apart of the problem unknowingly. This can happen when people consume more of a product that claims to be ‘sustainable’, because they believe its impact to be low; or choose it over an alternative that is, in fact, less harmful.
How to make sure your company isn't greenwashing
To ensure that your business is not greenwashing consider the following
Identify green initiatives - "areas for reducing waste and what would otherwise end up in the landfill and switch out parts of your product for recyclable content where possible."
Realistic goals - It is essential that you understand your carbon emissions. It is often that companies rely on carbon offsets which can lead to greenwashing.
Accurate reporting - Greenwashing is more present when companies use language not numbers. Normally companies who are ethically sound will use statistics and have data to back up their claims.
Proving sustainability with visibility - Sharing your companies practices on social media for consumers to see will help make a change and reduce greenwashing. " Nothing builds stakeholder loyalty better than a company that backs up its environmental claims."
Damaging your brands reputation
Many fashion brands make misleading claims regarding their environmental credentials and are now being picked up on it as greenwashing is being targeted.
“People are becoming increasingly aware of the negative impact that fashion can have on our planet. We know many shoppers are actively looking for brands which are doing good things for the environment – and we want to make sure the claims they see are stacking up.
“Our work so far indicates that there could be issues with greenwashing in the fashion sector and that is why we’ve prioritised this area for further investigation.
“Now is the time for the fashion industry to take a fresh look at what they’re telling customers and make any changes needed to comply with the law. Businesses that can’t back up their claims risk action from the CMA and damage to their reputation in the long-run.” - Cecilia Parker Aranha, the CMA’s director of consumer protection.
To prevent future greenwashing become completely transparent with your business, especially when it comes to environmental benefits of your services.