What is greenwashing?
‘Greenwashing’ is a term coined in the 1980s, used to describe companies or brands who spend more time and money on advertising their environmental credentials than they do on upholding those credentials. An infamous example is that of the oil company Chevron’s expensive ads to promote their dedication to sustainability, even while they actively violated the Clean Air Act and spilt oil into wildlife refuges.
We often see greenwashing in practice on the supermarket shelves. When plastic cling wrap is labelled “100% degradable” but on closer look we realise that it will simply degrade into smaller pieces of plastic, or light bulbs are labelled “eco-friendly” without defining what that means, we have greenwashing.
Have a read here for the difference between degradable, biodegradable, and compostable.
Why is greenwashing a problem?
Greenwashing tricks the customer into thinking they are doing something to help the environment when they are not, and it allows the company to get away with not doing their part simply because people think they are. In fact, it does worse than this: a customer buys cling wrap but “it’s ok because it’s sustainable”, which provides no incentive for that customer to change their habits.
How might greenwashing harm your brand’s reputation?
While consumers are certainly more aware of greenwashing than they were 20 years ago, it is still easy to be taken in by misleading advertising. Companies will still pay large sums to settle legal cases around irresponsibly labelled products, and media outlets love to dirty the name of a large retailer when such claims are made.
If a company is found out to be greenwashing, the public backlash often results in a drop in sales from conscious customers.
Greenwashing vs green marketing
This is not to say that you cannot label your products with ‘green’ marketing if you follow up these claims and make them a reality. However, green marketing must be honest, transparent, and practical – unlike greenwashing, which usually uses ‘fluffy’ or unclear language.
Green marketing is usually applied to a product or service that:
- Is manufactured sustainably
- Is non-toxic
- Is recycled or recyclable
- Is renewable
- Does not use excessive packaging
- Is not designed to be disposable
Vigilance is necessary when using green marketing – it is easy for this to turn into greenwashing if the company does not follow through. Always have some evidence on hand to show that you are doing what you say, and stay away from words like “eco-friendly”, “natural”, and “green”. “Organic” is another word often used incorrectly – if using it, make sure it is in the correct context.
Information taken from Business News Daily.
Article by Tallis Baker
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