Greenwashing – The Enemy of Sustainability (Part 4)

In any economy, consumers are usually king. However, greenwashing is a marketing ploy that misleads consumers. As a consumer, you need to be aware of the products you are purchasing.

Below you will find some tips to help you identify and avoid greenwashing!

#1. Knowledge Is Power

People are destroyed for lack of knowledge.”

– Hosea 4:6

As a consumer, it is vital that you are aware of the greenwashing techniques used by companies to sell their products. You must be familiar with the terminologies employed such as “all-natural” or “low emission,” etc.

For instance, one should be aware of the sin of irrelevance of greenwashing. For example, a product may claim to be a “CFC- Free” one and the claim might be genuine but unhelpful as the law generally bans CFCs, which you should be aware of as a consumer. Know all the greenwashing techniques to stop yourself from getting fooled.

When in doubt, turn to your trusty friend Google! Nowadays, with globalisation and advances in technology, there are many blogs and online forums where green movement activists share and discuss information about companies that convey misleading information about their products.

 

#2. Ask Questions

If you are not sure that a product is genuinely made from recycled materials, don’t hesitate to ask the company questions. When you probe for more details, you will be able to identify whether the company’s claims about their products are valid or not.

 

#3. Don’t Go for Products, Go for Brands

Nowadays, it is easier to find a chocolate producer with three out of its fifty products having been certified as sustainable and eco-friendly. However, it is much more complicated to find a company where all of its products are made from recycled materials and positively impact the environment.

However, the companies that abide by the highest sustainability features when producing their products are not driven by money and profits but instead want to spread their green message to the whole world.

How can you identify such companies?

  • By the word of mouth
  • Their eco-friendly measures described on their websites

#4. Packaging

Like how appearances can be deceptive, the packaging is also one of the elements used by companies to deceive consumers. Suppose that a product is packaged with 100% recycled material, but what about the contents of the product?

Many companies use green-coloured packaging to emphasise the idea that their products are eco-friendly. Some even go as far as including natural imagery like green leaves and animals in a forest. A great example of this is the Huggies Pure and Nature diaper line packaging displaying a child surrounded by green colours. This is intended to show that the child is happy, healthy, and with nature thanks to the product.

Consumers should not be carried away by the packaging of the lovely and “all-green” product!

 

#5. Beware of Buzzwords

Companies often use buzzwords like organic, natural, green, low-impact and eco-friendly to fool customers in buying their products and these words are used without having any legal repercussions.

Here is an extract from the second article in this series, where we talked about the sin of vagueness:

Sin of vagueness is when companies use too broad or poorly-defined terms for their products that cannot be adequately understood by the general public. For instance, the word “all-natural” is often used in the environmental claims’ of companies. However, even toxic chemical elements such as Arsenic, Mercury and Uranium are naturally occurring compounds. This means that the term all-natural does not necessarily imply a green and sustainable product.”

To have a green lifestyle doesn’t only mean using products that are labelled green. As a consumer, you are also responsible for the demand and supply of a product and hence you should be able to recognise greenwashing. Please share your comments!

Greenwashing – The Enemy of Sustainability (Part 3)

Greenwashing is a marketing strategy used by organisations to make false claims about environmentally friendly products. However, this marketing ploy can come back to bite you like it did Volkswagen, who suffered a US$30 billion loss due to their false environmental claims about clean diesel? If you want to avoid suffering the same sort of consequences, follow these simple tips!

#1. Know Your Company’s Goals and Missions

Work, Office, Team, Company, Internet, Business

When you start a company, you should always have specific goals in mind. Create a mission statement. A mission statement can be defined as a short and simple statement that explains the following questions: why an organisation exists, what is its purpose, what type of good or service it provides and who are its primary customers. Mission statements are important as they help to create the identity of a company and act as navigating equipment for the future entrepreneurial endeavours.

Sure, a company’s goals may change with time, but by establishing these values, you will have a set destination and, more importantly, that there will be no need to take shortcuts such as greenwashing.

#2. Don’t Be General, Be Specific!

Nearly all politicians have the habit of making general claims such as “We will eradicate poverty!” or “We will solve your problems!” This is similar to a greenwashing technique used by some companies which is called the sin of vagueness.

Here is an extract from the previous article:

“….sin of vagueness is when companies use too broad terms for their products that cannot be adequately understood by the general public. For instance, the word “all-natural” is often used in the environmental claims’ of companies. However, even toxic chemical elements such as Arsenic, Mercury and Uranium are naturally occurring compounds.”

Many companies tend to make use of poorly-defined terms like “green” without providing any further clarification. It is crucial to stop this practice. It is high time for companies to be more specific in their products’ descriptions and use appropriate terminology. Only then will you not fall in the greenwashing trap.

#3. Don’t Lie

A great man once said that lying is the greatest of all sins!

One of the seven sins of greenwashing is the sin of fibbing which is when companies lie blatantly about their products. For example, some companies can make up false claims and invent facts to deceive customers.

If you want to avoid greenwashing in your company, it is simple: don’t lie! Not because its illegal, but because you want to maintain the integrity of your company.

#4. Don’t Give Exaggerated Details

A common greenwashing technique involves making exaggerated claims about the qualities of products. If a company want to prevent greenwashing at all costs, then the company needs to show only the genuine green qualities that their products possess. For example, in advertisements, d on’ t show that your product is 100% recycled when it is it only 45% recycled. When companies exaggerate in their claims, customers tend to become suspicious.

#5. Real Recycling

One way to ensure that the claims about “environmentally-friendly” products become true is when companies genuinely use recycled products and employ sustainable business practices. If you want to label your product as “product made from 100% recycled material”, then don’t just claim it, do it!

#6. Genuine Seals and Certificates

To maintain a good reputation with your customers and avoid greenwashing, make sure that your products always have legitimate seals of authenticity. Moreover, official and legal certificates tend to authenticate the “green” claims that you are making.

#7. Codes of Conduct

This type of approach implies the creation of some company’s rules based on environmental policies. When rules and regulations will be implemented, they will prohibit a company from employing greenwashing principles. For instance, placing explicit bans on greenwashing principles in the department of marketing will help preserve the company’s image. A solid example could be how the code of conduct of the National Association of State Procurement Officials (NASPO) has established rules on how all members should market governments meetings and the actions taken.

#8. Stakeholders

This approach identifies stakeholders as important members of a business organisation as the integration of different shareholders such as managers, NGOs and even politicians can help to avoid greenwashing. Stakeholders will bring their knowledge and expertise which can prevent the emergence of greenwashing in the company.

#9. Transparency

If you want your company to stay far from greenwashing, your company needs to be a transparent one, where no data or facts are hidden, customers are not deceived, and you do not make false claims about your products and services.

What do you think about these tips? Easy to follow or too complicated? Please share your comments!

Greenwashing – The Enemy of Sustainability (Part 2)

In part 1, we were introduced to the world of greenwashing. Do you still remember what is greenwashing? If not, let me refresh it for you!

Greenwashing, also known as green marketing, is based on the term ‘whitewashing’. It refers to a type of marketing strategy employed by companies that convey false and misleading information by claiming that their products are environmentally friendly when they are not.

There are many aspects involved in greenwashing and today, we will learn about the seven sins of greenwashing!

7 Sins of Greenwashing

Similar to the seven deadly sins, the seven sins of Greenwashing, classified by TerraChoice, are provided below:

1. Sin of the Hidden Trade-Off

The hidden trade-off sin involves a company claiming its products as environmentally-friendly and green based on a narrow set of information without taking into consideration other more critical environmental issues such as gas emissions. The product may appear sustainable while ignoring essential ecological attributes such as the use of toxic chemicals, greenhouse gas emissions and energy use. For example, even though paper might come from a sustainably-harvested forest, it is still not environmentally friendly as the air pollution caused by its manufacturing process can lead to serious health problems such as asthma and upper respiratory tract disease.

2. Sin of No Proof

As the name suggests, this refers to making environmental claims without any easily accessible evidence, such as a reliable certification on either the label or the company’s website to back up claims of eco-friendliness.

This is one of the most widespread greenwashing strategies used by companies as anyone can make baseless environmental claims without any factual evidence. For instance, toilet tissue companies claim that a certain percentage of their products are made from consumer-recycled content. However, no genuine information or factual data has been provided to support that claim.

3. Sin of Vagueness

Remember that interview with Andrew Marr, where Theresa May, the Former Prime Minister of England, had dodged questions by providing vague answers. This also refers to a similar technique used by some companies.

The sin of vagueness refers to when companies use too broad or poorly-defined terms for their products that cannot be adequately understood by the general public. For instance, the word “all-natural” is often used in the environmental claims’ of companies. However, even toxic chemical elements such as Arsenic, Mercury and Uranium are naturally occurring compounds. This means that the term all-natural does not necessarily imply a green and sustainable product.

Moreover, the term chemical-free is also not acceptable as, according to chemists’ perspectives, all objects and substances are made up of chemicals. For example, even water is a chemical. As a result, these words used do not give an accurate picture of the products.

4. Sin of Irrelevance

Another greenwashing ploy is making an environmental claim, which might be true but unimportant and unhelpful. A great and typical example is the advertisement of “CFC- Free” products where the claim might be genuine but unhelpful as the laws generally ban CFCs.

5. Sin of Lesser of Two Evils

Here, the sin is about how the claim about a specific product in a category may be genuine but the whole category itself carries numerous risks. One simple example that will make you understand the concept is the use of organic cigarettes. They may be organic, but they are still cigarettes!

And even a small kid knows the health consequences of cigarettes!

6. Sin of Fibbing

This refers to the sin of advertising and claiming something which is not valid. In simpler words, it refers to lying blatantly. For instance, a company claiming to be Energy Star Certified when it is not or when a car company lies about how its cars emit zero carbon dioxide in the air.

It is about making up false claims, inventing facts and showing fake certificates and this method is genuinely illegal. However, most of the time, the government does not usually catch these companies.

7. Sin of Worshipping False Labels

The last sin refers to when companies create false labels or certifications to lead consumers into deception. It is about misleading consumers into believing that a particular product went through a green check process and is an environmentally-friendly product.

What do you think of these seven sins of greenwashing? Now, can you easily trust advertisement claims about environmentally-friendly products? Please share your comments and don’t forget to come back for part 3!

Greenwashing – The Enemy of Sustainability (Part 1)

Sustainability is meeting our needs without endangering the available resources for future generations. It is a term which you may have heard often. However, have you ever heard of the term ‘greenwashing?’

If not, then get ready to discover and learn more about it in this ongoing series!

What Is Greenwashing?

The United Nations has always supported sustainability efforts and encouraged the worldwide implementation of its Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Moreover, as per the Nielsen Global Survey, many online customers from over 60 countries agree that they would be willing to pay more for environmentally friendly goods and services. However, instead of genuinely integrating sustainable practices into their business models, some companies make the wrong use of the sustainability concept to boost their profits.

Greenwashing, also known as green marketing, is based on the term ‘whitewashing’. It refers to a type of marketing strategy employed by companies which convey false and misleading information by claiming that their products are environmentally friendly when they are not. Green values and green marketing are used to deceive consumers into believing that a company’s overall production is highly sustainable. It is about companies spending more money trying to persuade consumers that their practices are environmentally friendly than actually making them so. These companies aim to have a more positive impact on consumers and build a better image of their organisation in consumers’ eyes.

A classic case of greenwashing is the Volkswagen ‘Clean Diesel’ engine scandal. The car manufacturing corporation admitted to having cheated with the emission tests to make their cars appear more sustainable than they actually were.

Origins of Greenwashing

The origins of greenwashing can be traced back to 1986, where the hotel industry placed notices in each room asking the guests to reuse their towels to save the environment. At that time, Jay Westervelt, an American environmentalist, noted that there was a considerable amount of wastage in the hotel despite this environmentally friendly act and no real efforts were being done to reduce it and promote sustainability. In the end, hoteliers benefited from the increase in profit due to a reduction in laundry costs.

Around that same period, Chevron, an oil industry company in the United States, ran a campaign called ‘People Do’ where its employees were protecting bears, butterflies and other animals. The series of television and print ads had the sole purpose of convincing people that they have environmentally ethical business practices. The commercials were so persuasive that they even won the 1990 Effie advertising award. However, Chevron was sued by the United States Environmental Protection Agency as it violated the Clean Air Act and Clean Water Act by dumping oil in wildlife refuges.

How Greenwashing Works?

To increase the demand for their products, companies make false claims about how their goods are produced from recycled materials, free from chemicals, more natural and biodegradable. Sometimes their claims may be partly accurate, but the companies will tend to exaggerate to convince people to buy from them.

For instance, Tyson Foods, an American food multinational corporation was accused due to their false claims of using antibiotic-free chickens while McDonald’s paper straws were found to be non-recyclable due to the recycling structure in England. Additionally, the European Institute for Climate and Energy (EIKE) in Germany was subjected to much criticism as rather than being a scientific research organisation as suggested by its name, it is a lobby organisation which spreads fake news on climate change on its website.

Moreover, a rise in demand will lead to an increase in price which will most likely benefit suppliers and hence products are renamed, rebranded and repackaged. They are used to trick consumers into believing that they are sustainable products. For example, words such as ‘go green’, ‘eco-friendly’ are used as marketing ploys. For instance, L’Oreal mislabelled some of its hair products by marketing them as ‘vegan-friendly’ despite having done product testing on animals. As a result, greenwashing is a weapon used by companies to increase their net profit.

Furthermore, the media such as TV commercials and press releases are widely used by both individuals and companies to greenwash their products and services. How can we forget when the former US President Donald Trump claimed to be “the number one environmental President since Teddy Roosevelt” during his speech in Florida?

What do you think now that you have learn about greenwashing? Have you encountered companies who have used such a strategy? Please share your opinions and don’t forget to come for part 2 of this ongoing series to learn about the seven sins of greenwashing!