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What is Greenwashing and How to Spot It?

Climate change

Climate change is one of the most pressing issues and global threats to humanity. Climate change refers to long-term shifts in weather patterns and temperatures. Since the 1800s, human activities have been the main driver of climate change through activities such as burning fossil fuels which produces heat-trapping gases. There are lots of results of climate change and the warming of our planet including; melting ice caps, loss of biodiversity, mass deforestation, extreme weather, raging wildfires, record high temperatures and rising sea levels. When fossil fuels burn, they release greenhouse gases, mostly carbon dioxide, which trap the sun's heat and cause the planet's temperature to rise. Compared to the 19th century, the world is now about 1.1C warmer and the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has risen by 50%.

What is greenwashing?

Greenwashing refers to the process of conveying misleading information or a false impression about how a company's products are environmentally friendly. It involves deceiving customers into believing that a product have a greater positive environmental impact than they actually do. Businesses use greenwashing to intentionally hide wrongdoing to make a situation seem less bad. Greenwashing may also occur to overshadow a company's involvement in environmentally damaging practices. Although some greenwashing is unintentional, the majority of the time it is often carried out intentionally through a wide range of PR and marketing efforts. Many companies use greenwashing to appeal to customers who have a passion for caring about the environment, but the companies do not have to make meaningful changes in their business practices. Often, companies will spend more time marketing the 'eco-friendliness' of their product than on actually working to ensure they are sustainable and using eco-friendly practices. Greenwashing is really prevalent today, because it works and so many customers are deceived by it. Two thirds of shoppers are willing to pay more for sustainable goods, half of shoppers take into consideration a products eco-friendliness before deciding whether to purchase.

Types of greenwashing to look out for

Due to socially responsible investing on the rise so rapidly, a large number of companies want to attract the attention of consumers and investors, which has resulted in a growth in greenwashing. Greenwashing can be done in many different forms. Greenwashing can be carried out through the use of environmental imagery, hiding tradeoffs, misleading labels and burying environmentally unsound practices in the fine print. Misleading labelling and burying environmentally unsound practices in the fine print can be done by using terminology including 'sustainable' or 'clean' or 'eco-friendly', as these words are vague and not verifiable. Having images of wildlife, nature and beaches can imply environmental friendliness, even when a product is not. Consumers should check to see whether the product lives up to the marketing and advertising. Companies may highlight certain green practices they do while obscuring others that are harmful. Another type of greenwashing is that a company might make a product with a lower environmental impact but they still may manufacture it in a way that creates significant waste and emits greenhouse gases.

How to spot greenwashing

Greenwashing is on the rise, but there are certain ways you can spot a company that is doing it. Customers should look behind the buzzwords, such as 'sustainable' or 'eco-friendly', instead look for stamps of approval from organisations or certifications, for example Fair Trade. This will help to identify a legitimately sustainable company from a not-so-legit. As well as this, as customers you should do your own research to look for authenticity on whether a product is environmentally friendly and if it is manufactured and shipped in a sustainable way as well. Another way to spot greenwashing is if a company uses vague words or slogans. Any company can say a product is sustainable, but you should look for evidence to support their claim and question what these vague terms actually mean for each brand. If a company is lacking transparency and proof, they are most likely greenwashing. Customers should check the labels, product description and their website for information about the company's environmental impact and what initiatives they are involved in. A company that is legitimately working to minimise its environmental impact will tell you, if there is no disclosed information they are most likely not making an effort to reduce its environmental impact. Sustainability schemes are there to provide third-party assurance that a company's green claim are true. If an environmental claim a company makes is irrelevant or too simple this is a key way of identifying that they are greenwashing. On top of this, other ways of spotting greenwashing include: companies that emphasise one tiny green attribute when everything else is dirty, companies that use jargon or information that only a scientist could check or understand and 'greening' dangerous products to make them seem safe, for example 'eco-friendly' cigarettes.

Tackling greenwashing

As greenwashing is increasing amongst many companies due to an increase in the want and need for sustainable and eco-friendly products, we need to ensure that greenwashing declines so that we are actually purchasing sustainable products. There are so many tools and search engines to help customers identify sustainable brands and products, if we want to put an end to greenwashing we as customers should use the help out there to make sure we are purchasing and supporting legitimately sustainable products. We have the means to research brands that we invest our time and money in. As customers, we have immense power, we can create the landscape that businesses operate in, so where our money goes and company's focus goes. As climate change is such a pressing issue everywhere in the world, everyones focus should go towards sustainability. Companies should not and cannot get away with greenwashing anymore! We cannot waste anymore precious time in shifting towards more eco-friendly practices. We need to make the change that changes our world!


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