Greenwashing: What you should know

Greenwashing. Source: Shutterstock

As the world moves towards a more sustainable future, customers are looking for greener alternatives. There is also a lot of pressure for businesses to get green, meaning that companies are desperate to demonstrate that their values match the solutions to environmental issues. Unfortunately, this can sometimes lead to greenwashing. And, without the right knowledge, companies can risk focusing on superficially attractive products just to please some customers. 

But there are signs of greenwashing that can usually not be noticed as businesses pledge to sustainability. Persistent greenwashing may undermine the importance of sustainability. Therefore, it can be hard for customers to identify eco-friendly brands. This is the reason why it’s crucial to know how to avoid greenwashing so that eco-friendly products can be accessible to your customers. This article explains what you should know about greenwashing.

Greenwashing explained

From ads that are curated to your desires and needs, to product labeling from food to t-shirts, you can find marketing initiatives everywhere. As interest in sustainability keeps on rising, the need to know about a marketing concept known as greenwashing has become more crucial than before. 


Greenwashing is when a business provides a false impression that its products are better for the planet than they really are. This is an attempt to take advantage of the growing demand for eco-friendly products regardless of whether they are freer from chemicals, healthier, natural, or recyclable.


Greenwashing is simply about misdirecting customers by showing them something that tends to distract them from what is going on. Recent studies have indicated that most businesses including their websites may be using greenwashing. 


The unfortunate thing is that greenwashing can often take up a lot of space in the fight against huge environmental problems, such as plastic ocean pollution, climate change, and global species extinctions. Keep in mind that most businesses do this by accident because they don’t have the right expertise to understand what is or what is not environmentally beneficial. 


Greenwashing can appear in an advertising campaign for a brand or marketing copy. Sometimes, they can utilize buzzwords, such as green or eco-friendly, so customers may be misdirected into what they think is a better sustainable option. For instance, the meat and dairy industry usually utilizes labels like ethical, sustainable, and free-range to show a sense of responsibility and kindness.


But regardless of how dairy and meat products are produced, whether grass-fed or farmed, there is still a negative environmental impact. The Food and Agriculture Organization revealed that animal agriculture contributes to a significant percentage of global greenhouse gas emissions. 


Also, greenwashing can look like labels saying that the packaging is made up of recycled materials. Some companies also claim that they use sustainable business practices, but they fail to provide enough information on how it is lowering their environmental impact. As you can see, greenwashing can apply to most products including beauty, household, fashion, and food.


Why you should avoid greenwashing

It is in the interest of every entity to become truly sustainable. Incorporating low carbon technology, switching to renewable energy, and educating your employees are some of the ways that your business can avoid this accidental greenwashing.


You need to promote a sustainable ethos so that your business can first accomplish sustainability goals. Offering your customers complete transparency reassures them that your business is reliable and accommodates a variety of potential customers.


Delivering real change is crucial in your business’s attempts to have a green future. Greenwashing can allow your business to generate income in the short run, but it can have serious consequences in the long term.  


It’s worth noting that greenwashing can be identified in various ways. Most greenwashing usually occurs right on the packaging. Quite often, a business can make a claim just to look better than other alternatives. For instance, a chemical called chlorofluorocarbons that contributes to ozone depletion has been banned for a couple of years. Because this chemical is already illegal, a business that places chlorofluorocarbons free on the packaging is just an irrelevant claim.  


In most cases, this is common in insecticides, lubricants, and disinfectants. For example, this happens in food by placing cholesterol-free on the packaging of peanut butter. It’s worth noting that plant-based foods are already free from cholesterol. This may be true that peanut butter doesn’t have cholesterol, but it’s not unique. 


Just like most manipulative marketing, you should remember that greenwashing is designed to be vague. Sometimes, a company can utilize poorly defined claims. For instance, the packaging may claim that the product is all-natural or non-toxic. However, most harmful things, such as arsenic are usually natural. Besides, another good example of this is when a company says the product has plant-based ingredients on its packaging. In most cases, they pair this with green to claim that it’s eco-friendly.  


Some meat producers can have a range of naturals that have a logo with a green leaf, representing the product’s natural origins. Such packaging suggests that antibiotic-free chickens are natural.


You should note that the chickens of nowadays are not the same as those from 60 years ago because they are usually bred to grow faster. For example, broiler chickens used to weigh at least less than 2 pounds. Today, the average chicken can weigh at least 9 pounds. Because of this, several studies have suggested that most hens of today are usually in constant pain. 


The packaging of some natural range of chickens can also claim that the product doesn’t have added steroids or hormones. In most cases, in the left corner, it states that the regulations prohibit the use of these added steroids or hormones in hens. This means that the company is making irrelevant call-outs, which is greenwashing. 


Lastly, there are also some phrases, such as eco-friendly, eco-conscious, non-toxic, green, and chemical-free, which are all considered to be vague. Technically, it’s worth noting that everything is made up of chemicals and everything can be toxic with the proper dosage. Therefore, customers need to check the website and packaging for the right certifications associated with these claims.