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What is Greenwashing and How to Spot it?

Greenwashing is the practice of marketing something as environmentally friendly when it's not. Companies that greenwash their products or services often claim that they're "sustainable," "earth-friendly" and "green," but what they're really doing is making the most money possible while ignoring their impact on the environment and people who live nearby.


What is Greenwashing?


Greenwashing is the practice of misleading consumers about a company's environmental practices. It's often used by companies to make it seem like they are more environmentally friendly than they really are, or even to claim that their products are better for the planet than other competitors' products.

Greenwashing can take many forms, including:

  • Claiming that your product uses renewable energy (when in fact it does not)

  • Claiming that your product uses recycled materials when this is not true at all

We can give many examples of greenwashing taking place. For instance, in 2019, McDonald’s paper straws which were described as eco-friendly, were found to be non-recyclable. Meanwhile H&M use green tags to identify their “Conscious Choice” products to suggest the sustainability of certain products.


What are the effects of greenwashing?


If you're a consumer, greenwashing can have a significant impact on your purchasing decisions. In the short term, companies benefit by misleading consumers about their environmental practices and products. The public is left with the impression that certain brands are more environmentally friendly than others when in fact they may not be as eco-friendly as they claim to be.


In addition to this immediate benefit for advertisers, greenwashing also has long-term effects on consumers' trust in brands and willingness to buy from them again (which could ultimately impact sales). A 2013 study found that when given information about whether or not a product was environmentally friendly or not, participants were less likely than those presented with neutral information but no reference at all!


How to spot it?

  • Check labels.

  • Ask questions and research the company, its products and its commitment to sustainability.

  • Look for independent audits of the product's green credentials and consider how they were conducted (e.g.,peer-reviewed). Additionally, look at the full lifecycle of your products and services--how many steps did it take to get from raw material extraction or manufacturing to final delivery? Are there any waste streams that could be avoided by using better practices (e.,g., reusing packaging instead of throwing away boxes)? Finally, consider where you buy your products: some companies may use greenwashing techniques but have been caught lying about their "greenness" in order to get higher prices from customers who are willing to pay more for sustainable goods or services!

Avoiding inadvertent greenwashing


If you are a business owner, ensure that your claims are clear and easy to understand. Back up any sustainability claims with data. It is always best come clean and be honest about your brand’s sustainability practices.


If you are just curious then you have come to the right place! Make sure to choose brands over products wherever you can. You may really like an item, but is what goes on behind the scenes really worth your money? Don’t be misled by ‘green imagery’ either, they may be selling you a fake dream. Ensure that you look for certifications for third party organisations on their environmental status- which are usually not too hard to find. If a brand is very vague about their sustainability goals, this could be a sign to research them in greater detail.


The truth is that greenwashing is a real problem, and it can have serious consequences for the environment, our health and even our economy. So if you want to be sure about what kind of products or services are truly eco-friendly, it’s best to look for independent sources who will be able to tell you whether something is really made with good intentions or not.


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