“Greenwashing is an unethical practice where companies mislead consumers by claiming to be environmentally friendly or sustainable. Such behaviors or activities are designed to make people believe that the company is doing more to protect the environment than it really is.”
How often have you walked up the aisle in the supermarket and seen products with the terms “eco-friendly/green/natural” printed on them. You may even find packaging of daily use plastic products in green color, many of them with leaves and flowers.
The vague eco-friendly claims are usually used to persuade you and me to believe that we are making a responsible choice by buying the product. It takes advantage of well intentioned consumers who desire to make mindful buying decisions, it misleads them!
These greenwashing acts can be seen from product labels to popular advertising tools, from taglines to influencers. It is actually a big threat for the fight against climate crisis. It distracts the people by hiding the negative impact and exaggerating the positive claims or benefit — a type of selective disclosure.
By 2019, 73% of global consumers reported that they would change their consumption habits to reduce their impact on the environment — Nielsen’s Global Corporate Sustainability Report
Many companies spend so much time and money on marketing themselves as sustainable rather than minimising their environmental impact. With the sole aim to position themselves more desirable to the environmentally conscious consumers, they are causing more damage by breaking the trust of their customers. But it’s easy to get away with that, for example having misleading eco-labels, uncertified product compositions and even it’s vague recyclability claims. The worst part is that many companies are unaware that it is greenwashing, they may engage accidentally due to their lack of understanding of sustainable practices, or what is truly beneficial for the planet.
As a solution to eliminate their carbon emissions, many businesses turn to carbon offsetting — supporting projects such as reforestation, capturing methane pollution at landfills, or making changes in agriculture to capture more carbon in the soil. These offset programs that plant trees, for example, can be hard to track, and there’s a risk that the trees might still later be lost to flooding or forest fires.
Research shows less than 5% of carbon offsets actually remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.
So, carbon offsetting may seem to be an easy solution but in reality is a false and deceptive way of getting away with the negative environmental impact.
Fortunately, some countries are starting to crack down on marketing that greenwashes. In 2019, H&M was under investigation for its supposedly ethical ‘Conscious’ collection due to the vagueness of green terminology to appear more environmentally conscious and sell more clothes. Here are more recent examples of greenwashing standout cases.
It’s the ethical responsibility of everyone to spot, report and stop greenwashing to build a desirable future. I hope this blog helps you in understanding and identifying greenwashing. We at Around Zero would love to hear your views. Write to us at email@example.com
This blog was co-authored by Ana Guerrero and Vinishree, both are the co-founders of Around Zero.