It’s impossible to count them all.
There are far too many big cooperations selling their products in the name of “doing their part” to “save the Earth”. But considering our hyper-consumption-based cultures how many countries are actually “doing their part”?
If you are concerned about the environment, you probably want to find ways to make eco-responsible purchases. However, your attempts to support businesses that claim to make better environmental decisions might not be as successful as you think.
In other words, you might be a victim of greenwashing.
What is greenwashing?
The practice of greenwashing involves deceiving customers about a company’s environmental policies or the benefits a product or service has for the environment. In other terms, it is a tactic employed by businesses to deceive customers into thinking that a company’s goal, goods, or services have a greater environmental effect than they actually do.
Environmentalist Jay Westerveld used the phrase for the first time in an article in the 1980s. He condemned the “save your towel” trend in the hotel sector in this essay for capitalizing on the environmental concerns of visitors. Although this trend was presented as a method for visitors to assist hotels in reducing their water consumption and protecting the environment, it actually did nothing more than saving hotels money on labor costs for doing laundry and little to reduce their use of water.
Why is greenwashing wrong?
Greenwashing as such seems harmless but in the long run, it does more harm than good. Also known as “green shine,” it is an environmental problem in a world where we must all do our part to stop climate change. It undercuts businesses that do employ sustainable methods and makes it more difficult for environmentally concerned customers to make financial decisions that support the environment. It undermines customers’ trust in brands that are actually sustainable and environmentally friendly.
One such prime example of greenwashing involves the automaker Volkswagen, which has admitted to fitting a variety of vehicles with a “defeat” device, a proprietary piece of software that could detect when it was being tested for emissions and change the performance to lower the emissions level, all the while promoting the low-emissions features of its vehicles in marketing campaigns. But in reality, the amount of nitrogen oxide emissions that these engines were producing was up to 40 times the legal limit.
The legacy of single-use plastic water bottles is far worse. Canadian environmental organizations criticized Nestle in 2008 for falsely claiming that their bottled water helped the environment and that it was “the most ecologically friendly consumer product in the world.”
Other companies make more subtle attempts to appear eco-friendly. The words “eco,” “green,” and “natural” are frequently used in greenwashing. Even though certain regulatory bodies have attempted to put restrictions, they are widely utilized and there are no scientific criteria to fulfill.
How to spot greenwashing?
Here are some signs to watch out for:
Meaningless Labels: Many companies conceal their products behind meaningless “greenspeak” that may seem impressive but have no official support. Examples include stating that a product is “crafted with natural components” rather than displaying the certification or that it is “vegan approved” rather than displaying the fact that it is vegan as determined by PETA.
Suggestive Imagery: This includes attractive packaging trying to pass off as eco-friendly. A tissue firm may use green leaves to embellish its box, giving the impression that the paper was obtained responsibly, without really stating so. Some companies even go as far as including tiny pictures that mimic genuine environmental certification marks but have no real use.
Selective Disclosure: Companies frequently emphasize the good environmental aspects of their products while purposefully omitting any mention of the bad. For instance, an automaker may highlight a car’s fuel economy while omitting the lithium battery’s production from extremely hazardous mining operations.
Trade-offs: Brands often promote a new change as environmentally friendly while neglecting its negative repercussions. To reduce plastic waste, Starbucks, for instance, released lids without straws, yet these new lids consumed more plastic than the old ones did.
Vagueness and Irrelevance: Companies sometimes use ambiguous, irrelevant claims about their sustainability to greenwash their products. By making assertions that are technically accurate but unrelated to a product’s environmental impact, companies greenwash their goods.
Ways to avoid greenwashing
– Be on the lookout for packaging that plainly and without hype-filled words describes a product’s beneficial environmental impact.
– If a marketing claim refers to the product itself, the packaging, or a piece of either, it should be transparent to the consumer which it does.
– Make sure that the marketing copy does not overstate or imply a greater environmental advantage than it is capable of providing.
– The product provides supporting data when comparing itself to another brand.
– Choose items that have reputable third-party certifications.