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What Is Greenwashing and How To Spot It

This article will outline what greenwashing is, give you pointers on how to spot it and outline companies which have been found guilty in the past for having committed it.

What is greenwashing?

Greenwashing is when a company spends more time marketing their products and company as being sustainable rather than actually minimising their environmental impact.

This term was discovered by an environmentalist named Jay Westerveld in 1986. It stemmed from an essay called “save the towel” which was a movement in hotels marketed for reducing the amount of linen which was being cleaned. Though, this was marketed to customers as a way to become more environmentally friendly, in the end it was found to just be a muse to reduce hotel costs.

What makes greenwashing important and how can we spot it?

As mentioned before greenwashing is a company’s way of fooling a consumer into thinking that the business is complying with sustainability goals when in reality they are not.

A young climate activist named Greta Thunberg addressed the issues regarding climate change and has helped to bring the issue into the spotlight for various audiences specifically, school children. Therefore, the future generations and existing generations are slowly becoming more aware of what products they are consuming and choosing to support.

If we take a moment to have a think, when walking around town and going into shops how many eco-friendly products have begun to come into the market? Similarly how many eco-friendly businesses have opened? But the question to ask is how many of these companies are genuinely making a difference by reducing their carbon emission and which ones are doing it to appeal to their audiences and investors?

Luckily for you, we now live in a world of technology and google which makes it easy for us to quickly fact check what a company says they are doing vs what difference it is actually making. This will hopefully help the public catch out more companies that are greenwashing and help to genuinely reduce greenwashing and increase more sustainable companies.

What are some ways to spot greenwashing?

There are few things you can do when you spot a product claiming to be eco-friendly in order to minimise you as an individual falling for greenwashing. These involve:

  • Familiarising yourself with recognised certifications

  • Be wary if any distractions and buzz words

  • Look for minimal or recyclable packaging

Companies that were caught red handed

1. BP

This company changed their name from BP to Beyond Petroleum and then added solar panels to their petrol stations and showed this being done publicly. This was a muse to show their consumers that they were being eco-friendly however, this advertisement on promoting low energy consumption counteracted with the fact that this company spends the majority of their annual spend on oil and gas which as we know, is not renewable energy.

2. Starbucks

In attempts to reduce plastic use, this company released strawless lids in order to reduce the use of plastic straws. However, it was then found that these strawless lids contained more plastic than the old lids and plastic straws combined. Though, the company claimed that the plastic material was different (polypropylene) which is a recyclable plastic. The issue with this then is that only around 9% of the worlds plastic is actually recycled.

3. Fast fashion brands such as H&M

This brand uses grab words such as sustainable and recycled in their advertising and collections. However this is just a labelling tactic used to appeal as environmentally conscious to their target audiences. As this is a fast fashion brand, they contribute to the most textile material waste and use polyester or recycled plastics rather than “organic cotton”.

I know hope that after reading this article you are now equipped with the knowledge to identify companies which are greenwashing thus allowing yourselves to make more of a conscious effort to support brands who genuinely are helping our environment and becoming more eco-friendly. At the end of the day what you choose to consume can be the make or break it for the future generations on this earth.


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