What Exactly Is Greenwashing?
So in short Greenwashing is giving the false sense that a company and/ or its products are actually good for the environment or better for the environment than they actually are. It can be explained as –
“the phenomena of socially and environmentally destructive corporations, attempting to preserve and expand their markets or power by posing as friends of the environment.”
Greenwashing is a simple play on the original term of “whitewashing,” which means using misleading information to gloss over bad behavior.
How Green Washing Works
Greenwashing is also known as “green sheen,”. Greenwashing is an attempt by companies to make the most of the growing trend in the publics growing awareness and demand for products that minimise their environmental footprint and impact, they are environmentally sound whether that means they are healthier, more natural, free of chemicals, recyclable or are more efficient and less wasteful of natural resources.
The term Green Washing originally comes from around the 1960s when the hotel industry came up with one of the most obvious and well known examples. If you have ever stayed in a hotel you will probably have seen it. The hotel places a notice in the hotel room that they care for the environment and they do this by asking the guests to reuse their towels and to only place them on the floor when they want them replaced. The idea they put forward is that this would help to reduce water consumption and help save the environment… Of course this is true but it is not their driving reason for this practice – it is simply about cutting hotel laundry costs and reducing the amount of time the maid spends in each room. You could look around the room at all the individually wrapped items and single use plastics to know they sadly don’t care about the environment or water consumption except for where it hits them in the pocket. Although this practice isn’t for the benefit of the environment it is worth following as we do not need our towels and linen replaced everyday.
Examples of Greenwashing
As just mentioned above hotels are an obvious example with the hotel towel washing green sheen. They carry on with the practice to this day and still push that it is for the environment.
More and more companies have been re-branding themselves as champions of the environment, giving the impression that they actually care when they truly don’t.
For example, recently, some of the world’s biggest carbon emitters, such as conventional energy companies have attempted to re-brand themselves as environmentally caring and conscious companies. Another big example is the major car manufacturer Fiat Chrysler were facing huge fines for their car emissions and to get around he EU emissions limits and avoid the real problem of having high emissions in their vehicles. They have decided to pool it’s fleet of cars with Tesla’s. By paying Tesla hundreds of millions of dollars to allow them to pool their vehicles together it lowers Fiat Chrysler’s emissions per vehicle therefore creating the image that its cars are better for the environment than they truly are. This allows them to bring down the CO2 level per car so that it’s emissions will fall back below the EU limit and they therefore avoid heavy fines. Other green washing techniques are to rename, re-brand, and repackage. Nothing inside the product may have changed but by doing so they may reach new Eco-conscious customers as they appear more wholesome, free of chemicals or better than other competing brands.
The National Trust in the UK does a lot of good things and it is re-positioning itself as caring about the environment, making products from recycled materials, less packaging but when the products are arriving in the warehouse they are coming heavily wrapped in layer upon layer of plastic on the pallets. They may look good on the shelves but behind the scenes nothing has changed and the environmental face of the company is only facing the customer. The rest has remained the same.
Companies can also be greenwashed via press releases, news articles and television adverts about their new clean green enegry or about them minimising their pollution efforts. Even though they may state that they are a clean green company the efforts of this may or may not be true. One positive company to note is Patagonia who seem to be truly involved and pushing forwards with their eco policies as well as paying staff to work on eco projects around the world. We at Charmio are doing our best to stay green and clean through our use of fabrics and production processes. While our impact maybe insignificant compared to the others we believe it is important for everyone to play their part no matter what size. While some companies making real concerted efforts and meaningful commitments to green initiatives and projects shout about it, some don’t and the ones not really doing so much seem to shout the loudest.
Green Peace have said one of the most common Green Washing practices are when an inherently polluting or unsustainable company shout about an environmental program or product while at its core the business continues with its bad practices.
The U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) offers several illustrations of greenwashing on its website, which details its voluntary guidelines for deceptive green marketing claims.
- A plastic package containing a new shower curtain is labeled “recyclable.” It is not clear whether the package or the shower curtain is recyclable. In either case, the label is deceptive if any part of the package or its contents, other than minor components, cannot be recycled.
- An area rug is labeled “50% more recycled content than before.” The manufacturer increased the recycled content from 2% to 3%. Although technically true, the message conveys the false impression that the rug contains a significant amount of recycled fiber.
- A trash bag is labeled “recyclable.” Trash bags are not ordinarily separated from other trash at the landfill or incinerator, so they are highly unlikely to be used again for any purpose. The claim is deceptive since it asserts an environmental benefit where no meaningful benefit exists.
What Can Be Done?
Greepeace launched its Stop Greenwash campaign in 2009 to call out companies green washing and with the aim of helping consumers make better choices.
Customers need to be able to look beyond the green advertising and noise making of the companies and differentiated between who is trying to make money and who actually wants to make change. Read the ingredients list – what are they actually putting in there? Palm Oil? If so why and where is it coming from. Palm Oil is another can of worms that needs to be looked at in details. What are they using to make their clothes? Organic materials? Bamboo? Recycled materials? If not why not? Can you directly ask an employee of the company? Look for labels that have been vetted by a reliable third party. Just because a label states that it is “made with organic ingredients” or “all-natural” this does not mean that the product actually qualifies for Certified Organic status.
Some labels placed on products can be suspect. If you do come across a label that you deem to be suspect then you can check it out on the Ecolabel Index, this is a global directory of eco-labels which at the time of writing tracking 463 different eco-labels in 197 countries across 25 different industries. This is a useful online resource that provides information on which company or group i behind each certificate and whether or not independant third party assessments are required.
The FCC guidelines can be useful to consumers who seek to differentiate real green companies from greenwashed:
- Packaging and advertising should explain the product’s green claims in plain language and readable type in close proximity to the claim.
- An environmental marketing claim should specify whether it refers to the product, the packaging, or just a portion of the product or package.
- A product’s marketing claim should not overstate, directly or by implication, an environmental attribute or benefit.
- If a product claims a benefit compared to the competition, the claim should be substantiated.
Key Points To Takeaway
- Greenwashing is an attempt to capitalise on the growing demand for products that are environmentally sound.
- Greenwashing can convey a false impression that a company or its products are environmentally sound.
- Truly green products back up their claims with facts and details.