Updated: Jul 18, 2023
Greenwashing is the disinformation of an organisation so that it presents itself in an environmentally responsible public image. Essentially, companies recognise the climate emergency or at least recognise the incredibly large growing mass of people who do and therefore, listening and ensuring their products are eco-friendly sustainable and have a minimal impact. This is a great marketing point, as it allows people to know they share our ethics and will then buy or use their products or services without jeopardising your own ethics and goals. Then here comes Evil Corp. They don’t want to put money in to actually achieve a green, sustainable and eco-friendly business but want to make you believe they are and willing to spend your money with them. This is where greenwashing appears.
Greenwashing can appear in many aspects and it can be hard to tell the signs. Companies will use a number of tricks to paint a product or service as green, eco or ethical from its image, its words used to the “certification” it acclaims to hold. Though there are many ways greenwashing appears, there are still some companies that are good, you just have to do some research or just think about what they are doing and if this meets a green ethic. Some key ways to do this is just by understanding the company and what they deal in, for example it is quite obvious huge fossil fuel companies aren’t really environmentally friendly, yet there can also be quite niche examples. Here are 8 cases of greenwashing you should be aware off:
Volkswagen and Audi used emission cheating software to deceptively advertise diesel vehicle as clean and environmentally friendly, when the were not.
Kauai coffee pods were advertised as 100% compostable with a fine print detailing this had only been certified at “industrial facilities”. The company agreed that this was misleading, as the coffee pods are not certified for backyard compositing.
Ikea noted as a major sustainable corporation have been linked to illegal logging in Ukraine, which is supposedly linked to the wood certification scheme ‘Forest Stewardship Council’ that has been described as greenwashing the timber industry.
Tide purclean detailed their laundry detergent is 100% plant based when it was only 75%, due to this the company agreed to change their packaging to not be so deceptive.
Starbucks released a “straw-less lid” that actually contained more plastic than the old lid and straw combination. Starbucks didn’t even deny this but pressed that it was made from a polypropylene, a commonly-accepted recyclable plastic. However, as only 9% of the world’s plastic is recycled, it is still creating a greater amount of plastic waste.
H&M have used displays and even slogans that are strikingly similar to those used by climate activist, things like “climate crusader”, as well as pictures of eco-activists, which they use as brand ambassadors. This is all to follow the growing sustainability trend. Yet they don’t really practice what they preach. Even their conscious collection, which is marketed as sustainable has higher damaging synthetic material than their main line. Many clothing brands like this also contribute a great amount to textile waste, which often ends in landfill.
BP changed their name to Beyond Petroleum and added solar panels to their gas station, then focused their advertisement on their low-carbon energy products, yet more than 96% of its annual spend is on oil and gas.
Coca-Cola has been ranked the number 1 plastic polluter and with this title they are still currently stating they are not going to abandon their plastic bottles. Yet still advertise that they are sustainable and eco-friendly.
This is just a handful of the greenwashing that goes on every day, there are many more cases of greenwashing, some that are pending, have been settled or dismissed and many more still ongoing. One story I heard detailed a company who produced eco-paint when the only thing eco-friendly about it was that the pot was recyclable. It angers me companies do this, to pray on people good ethics to further line their pockets. It is also annoying that some companies have for years defiled the environment and then switched to eco-friendly alternative or start to and make out like they were green to begin with, again this is misleading and unfair to the companies starting out with the world in mind.
There are many things to look for to find out if a company is guilty of greenwashing and you should be aware of these. Start with a mindset, where you can look at things in the broader sense by questioning a company’s motive, as well as its primary service/product. Also be aware of niche elements of greenwashing for example I am aware how plant based is the future due to often using drastically lest resources and being less harmful to the environment but can actually still contain products that are harmful such as palm oil. Not all palm oil is harmful but it is if done in an unsustainable way. It is also important that greenwashing can appear in all aspects not just when buying something, banks often brand the money you store with them as life changing and help to fund revolutionary (& green) businesses but neglect to mention the life crippling effect they have when invested in fossil fuel conglomerates. Here are some key things to look out for when buying a product or service:
Vague: Often in a companies catchphrase, motto or slogan they will use eco-friendly terminology but that don’t have an actual meaning to how they are green. For example using a broad term like eco-friendly but without noting how.
Imagery: This is used on product labels such as wildlife, trees, nature and the colour green to associate with a green message. Even though this gives the feeling of an eco-friendly products or service this is just a form of green marketing and does not mean anything.
False Certification: Companies use keen catchphrases that make you want to buy their products such as ‘organic, recycled, recyclable, etc. but unfortunately are not. They are just put onto a product or service to get you to buy them. This is often through some self-declaration or certification that has not be vetted. Make sure to check these claims and if it is actually possible for you to achieve e.g. recyclable locally or has to be sent away to the manufacture.
Swindle: Company’s might have a sustainable/eco-friendly product to wave and attract you but then once at their store show numerous other products that don’t meet the environmentally friendly disclaimer of the one that brought you there.
Simply put greenwashing is disgusting and a deceptive act for the rich to get richer with no care for the environment. It is used to trick people who are actually trying to make an active change through conscious decisions with their money, which is plainly upsetting. Therefore, I have tried to shed some light on greenwashing, some cases of it and what to look for, so you do not fall for it. One more part of inspiration that has always stuck with me on greenwashing comes from one of my favourite spoken word artist who gave the following lyrics:
“our revolution is quickly becoming a catchphrase, a colour to paint the walls of our castles, shell corporation the worlds second largest private sector oil company has now marketed itself as a leader in green technology, there new motto ‘we can pass as green if we just put green dye in the gasoline’”