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What is Greenwashing and How to Spot it?

Companies should minimise their carbon footprints

In our current climate and the damage being done to it is mandatory that organisations should be scrutinised on the damage they bring to our environment and the claims that they make to be "cutting down carbon footprint" and "saving the earth" which is a complete overstatement as no one can truly "save the earth", irreparable damage to our ecosystems have already been done and all we can do is limit our actions so they may not hinder the future.

Whilst you may have contextual knowledge on greenwashing as you have heard companies lean towards making their brand look more environmentally friendly many companies try to cover up the damage they have already committed by whitewashing. This is an act when an organisation exonerates itself by putting out false/misleading information to improve its reputation. Whereas, greenwashing is a marketing spin in which green PR is used to persuade the public that their company is environmentally friendly which may not always be the case.

Some companies may honestly believe that they are doing "their part" and their knowledge on sustainability is limited but this information when not factually correct is unhelpful as it slows down our progression towards sustainability whilst also not being able to have a realistic grasp of how much work that needs to be done to have a greener future. How do you feel knowing that the individual attempts you are making towards providing a better future for you and the ones you love are being sabotaged by corporations too selfish to think about anything apart from financial advantages?

A recent example of greenwashing would be the Mcdonald's paper straws, a green initiative in 2019 that saw the fast-food giant initiate a campaign to limit the amount of single-use plastics used in stores. They replaced the plastic straws with paper ones in an attempt to reduce their carbon footprint however, they ended up with 'pie in their face' as the paper straws cannot be recycled hindering their 'eco-friendly' decision. This campaign saw negative feedback from customers as they complained the straw would dissolve as they were drinking and was too hard to drink from.

In the UK alone we use an astonishing 15 million 'single-use' plastic bottles per day. Can you begin to imagine the damage that does to our wildlife and the ocean? Half of all plastics ever manufactured have been created in the last 15 years and the exponential increase in production of plastics, if not quickly resolved and waste management systems put in place will be devastatingly impactful.

How do brands attempt to Greenwash?

These approaches are strategies some brands use to persuade the public they are environmentally friendly.

  • Non-specific data which backs up their claims.Any attempt to sell their product as one which is organically made should be followed by details which are distinct towards the item they are putting forwards. For example, if a brand were to use bamboo for clothing even though it is a sustainable fabric for clothing the manufacturing process may use chemicals which defeats the purpose therefore a business would say no chemicals were used in the manufacturing process.

  • Accountability. If brands are honestly as sustainable as they say they are then they will be open and transparent when mentioning how their activities are causing harm no matter how small or big. They will also find ways to minimise their carbon footprint so the public is able to keep track of whether they do really mean what they say.

  • Misleading. Some brands will intentionally mislead their consumers by using statements such as "50% more recyclable than before" whilst as a matter of fact they made the slight adjustment of going from 2% to 3% more recycled materials. Technically speaking they are factually correct however statements such as these give the impression that there has been a considerably significant change.

Brand image/values

Environmentalism and its practices have become key considerations for investors when determining whether to involve themselves with the brand. Brand image is vital in the public eye and in the last decade, the charity sector has been rocked by several scandals and controversies these include non-profit organisations such as Save the Children and Oxfam which are particularly well-known charities that have considerably large reach in the voluntary sector, further reporting was concluded by BBC news which reported that thousands of people cancelled their regular donations resulting in Oxfam having to make £16 million of cuts. Corporate Social responsibility should be a focal point for all organisations in order to express their brand values.


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