We’ve mentioned it here on The Greener View before, but given that greenwashing is so prevalent right now, we decided the subject deserved a closer look. Hopefully, after reading this you’ll have a better understanding of what greenwashing is, how to spot it and how to avoid it.
Firstly, What Exactly is Greenwashing?
Greenwashing happens when a company claims that its practices and/or its products are more sustainable or environmentally friendly than they actually are.
Companies who are guilty of greenwashing usually implement marketing techniques to convince consumers that the product they are buying is more sustainable than it is, which enables companies to capitalise on consumers’ desire for more responsibly made products, without fulfilling the promise of a “greener” approach to production and distribution.
Greenwashing behaviour may involve a company claiming its products are made from recycled materials, or that it has energy saving benefits, or that they make promises to be carbon neutral in a certain number of years. These claims may be true, but they are usually exaggerated.
Companies realise that consumers are increasingly concerned about climate change and so companies take advantage of this desire and use sustainable or environmentally friendly claims as a marketing strategy. Companies tend to use “green” jargon or buzzwords in order to mislead the consumer, as there is little to no regulation around words such as sustainable, eco, green, conscious, organic and responsible.
So why should we care about greenwashing? Marketing is meant to sell, right?
The biggest problem when it comes to greenwashing is the fact that well-meaning customers are falsely led to purchase a product which does not live up to its environmentally friendly claims. Therefore, the customer is misled, and their environmentally conscious choice is made redundant.
We are told that it’s important to vote with our wallets, so it’s frustrating when you realise you’ve spent your hard-earned cash on a product that isn’t what it says it is.
The competition created by the customers’ desire for more sustainable products leads companies to make environmental claims which saturate the marketplace, so the goods and services with legitimate environmentally friendly claims are drowned out. This means the growth of environmental innovation is slowed down within the marketplace.
These patterns make consumers cynical. If consumers are overwhelmed by various companies’ environmental claims, a small number of which are actually true, then they will become suspicious of every company that claims to be sustainable or has a sustainable product. Consumers will begin to believe that it is not possible to have a greener marketplace, one that is better for people and planet – allowing companies to keep greenwashing.
How to avoid Greenwashing?
You only have to open Instagram to see ads for the latest sustainable brand, or another conscious collection. That’s not to say the brands that claim sustainable credentials are deceiving their potential customer, but it makes it more difficult for the consumer to recognise companies with legitimate sustainable practices.
Brands need to become more transparent. A lot of the companies that are jumping on the greenwashing bandwagon are companies whose business model relies on mass production and therefore mass consumption. Most of these companies can never be sustainable because their business model relies on the exact opposite.
The first place to look for the evidence to back up their claims is on companies’ websites. There is a consumer-led demand for companies to become more transparent and to disclose essential information about their products; from where they source their materials, to who makes their product, to the working conditions in which the products are made.
The most important thing you can do as a consumer is do your research, and now in the time of social media it’s very easy to get in contact with these brands. If you can’t find what you’re looking for on their website then send them a message asking about their sustainable practices, their waste management, where they source their materials, how they treat their workers, where their products are made or whatever it is you want to know. If you don’t get a clear, honest answer free of eco-jargon then it’s probably best to stay clear.
The fashion industry probably sees the largest amount of greenwashing, and it can be really overwhelming trying to figure out which brands are truly responsible and which ones are greenwashing.
Thankfully, there’s an app to make all this easier. As we have mentioned before Good on you is a great tool and resource to help you research the ethics and sustainability of fashion brands. Good on you rates brands on a variety of areas, such as how the brand treats their workers, the brand’s impact on the planet and its animal welfare policies. Good on you believe these to be the most important social and environmental issues facing the fashion industry.
Greenwashing probably won’t be going anywhere soon, as less than sustainable brands try to keep their consumers on side, that’s why it’s important to understand how it works and how to spot it. We hope that we have been able to shed some light on the topic and that it will help you make more informed decisions as a consumer.