By: Sarah Zitin
The timely and rising demand for eco-friendly products and environmentally safe business practices highlight an extraordinary shift towards eco-conscious consumerism. At the same time, many companies are guilty of “greenwashing,” a term coined from the 60’s driven by the nuclear power industry’s need to stay competitive during the anti-nuclear movement. In essence, it refers to deceitful practices and marketing about a company or product’s environmental impact.
According to a 2015 Nielson poll, 66% of people are willing to pay more for eco-friendly products, and 50% of purchasing decisions are influenced by sustainability features, which is a good reason to fake sustainability, or greenwashing.
By making people think practices are sustainable – appealing to green demands – businesses retain most environmentally conscious consumers without actually changing greenwashing business practices.
How Does Greenwashing Look?
This is the essence of greenwashing: taking more or less true environmental statements and embellishing them to make the product or company seem sustainable.
- What: Defining something as “green” by a narrow definition that ignores other environmental impacts.
- How: Claims are not confirmed or verified by third-party certifications.
- Skimming: Broad, insubstantial, or twisted claims. These include statements like made with recycled materials, eco-friendly, non-toxic, and more indefinable applications for pretending to be green, without further specifics on why a product is eco-friendly.
- Less than: Touting one good sustainability aspect while dismissing greater environmental harm.
- Fibbing: Just plain lying.
- Misleading labels: Misleading words and images that imply false third-party support. For example: Labeled as “Vegan approved” instead of an official certification like PETA-certified or Green America Certified.
Many people today make at least some effort to minimize their impact on the planet’s ecosystems. Recycling and saving energy are mainstream practices now, and most of us try to buy more sustainable products. It’s important to identify greenwashing:
Greenwashing takes advantage of consumers’ limited time to make you feel better about their products instead of making their products more sustainable.
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) Green Guides provide guidelines to help responsible marketers avoid making environmental claims that mislead consumers. The FTC has filed only two to five environmental marketing cases per year since 2015, which means that very few greenwashers are ever held accountable.
Some of the world’s biggest polluters have used greenwashing to distract from the environmental damage caused by their company and its products. The company then accepts approval for its environmental progress while continuing to pollute without consequences.
As long as greenwashing works and they can get away with it, companies have little incentive to improve their products. And consumers, believing that they are making green choices, continue to purchase bogus green products instead of making the changes that would reduce their consumer footprint.
While examples of greenwashing are easy to find, truly green products are not. When you shop for sustainable products, you are still only looking for the most sustainable product available – which may not be very sustainable at all.
Learning how to identify greenwashing will make it easier to tune out the noise of misleading marketing tactics and spot the companies whose environmental claims genuinely reflect a greener product.
Today greenwashing is on the increase because more of us have started to demand that the products and services we use are authentically sustainable. Look for the evident signs of greenwashing that are listed above. Buy thoughtfully, consciously, ask questions and if you’re concerned about a company’s authenticity, do the research. You can google any company and look for their remarks, materials of products, sourcing, how the internal business functions, and pay attention. Don’t buy it if you doubt it. Stay green! It’s mandatory for the present and future of a sustainable planet for everyone.