September 14, 2022
Some companies spend more time and money on marketing themselves as environmentally friendly than they do on actually minimizing their impact on the environment. This is called greenwashing. It's a deceitful marketing ploy intended to mislead consumers who prefer buying goods from brands with good ethical practices.
Sadly, greenwashing is becoming more and more prevalent as consumers become increasingly interested in sustainability. Many companies are greenwashing their products, services, and policies in order to capitalize on this trend.
Consumers want sustainable options
Sustainability has become a buzzword in recent years, as more and more people look for ways to reduce their impact on the environment. While some people see sustainability as a trend that will eventually fade away, others believe that it is a fundamental shift in the way we live and consume. Either way, there is no denying that sustainability is top of mind for many consumers.
When it comes to sustainable living, consumers expect businesses to play a role. The IBM Institute for Business Value found that half of all consumers are willing to pay more for a sustainable brand or product. This is why greenwashing is becoming an increasingly widespread problem. As consumers continue to become more interested in sustainability, companies use greenwashing as a marketing gimmick to mislead consumers into thinking that their products are environmentally friendly. All to make more money. However, consumers are increasingly savvy about greenwashing, and they’re quick to call out companies that falsely advertise their sustainable practices.
We can hold companies accountable for their environmental impact and make sure that they are actually doing what they claim to be doing. As a consumer, it's important to be able to spot greenwashing so that you can avoid supporting companies that are engaging in this unethical practice. By being aware of greenwashing and taking steps to avoid it, you can help create a more sustainable world.
Here are some tips for spotting greenwashing:
- Vague or meaningless claims using buzz words like eco-friendly or organic. If a company is making extravagant claims about how "green" their product is without providing any specifics, they might be greenwashing.
- Companies promoting recyclable packaging as their main approach. This has little impact if the rest of the business model is not based on environmentally friendly practices.
- Brands that have one collection of sustainable items that represents a very small percentage of their overall product range.
- Making claims of sustainability with no proof.
- Hidden trade-offs. Do you remember a few years ago when Starbucks eliminated straws only to introduce new lids that used more plastic than the old lid and straw combined?
- Do your research. If you're not sure whether a company's claims are legitimate, take some time to look into them. A quick Google search can often reveal whether or not a company is greenwashing. Check reputable sources like Fair Trade USA, the B Corporation Directory or The Environmental Working Group (EWG) Verified.
Greenwashing is unethical but it can also be illegal
The U.K.’s Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) is currently investigating misleading claims made by popular fast fashion brands ASOS, Boohoo, and George at Asda. They say that consumers should be able to confidently purchase environmentally friendly products without being misinformed. Fast fashion companies are notorious for greenwashing. Lately, you might notice that a lot of these companies are promoting their initiatives toward sustainability with vague claims that are all fluff.
Last week the U.K.-based brand Boohoo announced a collaboration with celebrity, Kourtney Kardashian. They called her “the brand’s newest ambassador with a focus on sustainability”. However, the business model doesn’t really allow for sustainability. Boohoo's customers are drawn to the retailer because it sells clothes that they can wear once and then donate or throw away. These items are low value and low quality at an extremely discounted price. For this reason, experts agree that this is a prime example of greenwashing.
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is cracking down on large corporations that have been caught greenwashing. If you are unfamiliar with the FTC, it is a U.S. government agency that is responsible for preventing deceptive and unfair business practices.
Earlier this year, the largest ever civil penalty stemmed from the FTC holding Walmart and Kohl’s accountable for falsely claiming that dozens of rayon textile products were made of bamboo. This deceptive marketing claim led consumers to believe these products were environmentally friendly when they actually used toxic chemicals that pollute the environment. Kohls was ordered to pay $2.5 million and Walmart to pay $3 million in civil penalties.
It's no surprise why the idea behind "going green" has become such big business: People love feeling like they're doing something good for themselves and the planet. This also means greenwashing isn’t going away anytime soon. As consumers, we should do our best to identify and avoid companies who are being deceitful about their impact on the environment. However, don’t be too hard on yourself for falling for dishonest claims made by companies who are greenwashing.