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What is Greenwash?

Green movements are becoming more prominent nowadays due to some negative environmental scenarios happening today. Climate change, global warming, frequent occurrences of severe weather eventstyphoons, drought, extreme heat, floods, etc., all over the world, make people realized how the world is suffering, how these scenarios can affect both the environment and the people. So, everyone is interested in supporting all green movements or projects to take some actions towards these threatening global issues.  

Many commercial businesses, brands, agencies and organizations support this green movement by promoting green products and services to the consumers. However, some entities are taking this environmental trend for granted, and for their own advantages. Going green is now becoming a profitable business strategy for most businesses all over the world. Some businesses are joining the movement due to environmental concerns, but others are just using this strategy to open new markets for the environmental lovers, make products and services that claim misleading environmental benefits to catch favourable sentiments from the consumers and get some support from the government to make their company grow more. 

Greenwashing or also called “green sheen” is the act of making deceptive and fallacious claims about the environmental benefits of a product or service of one’s company or commercial business only for the sake of marketing.

Typically, it happens when an organization or commercial business is allocating more money and time to make their advertising and marketing look more “green” or appealing to nature or the environment rather than doing actual business actions and practices to sustain and protect the environment. Sometimes these products, technology and services are labelled with “natural”, “organic”, “eco-friendly”, “green”, “environmentally-friendly”, etc. where in reality the manufacturing process of these things does the opposite things.  

Greenwashing is an existing term and marketing strategy over recent years that is widely used by companies and businesses to grab the attention and meet the demand of the consumers to a cleaner and greener environment. This marketing strategy is being more abused even today, where “going green” is becoming more renowned to people, making them strive more for a greener life and environment by choosing goods, products, technology and services that claim to be “green”. 

Through this greenwashing strategy, businesses and companies can easily appear more environmentally friendly, thus looking more attractive to the consumers’ eyes. Additionally, they can use this kind of strategy to make their products and services look better and promising than its competitors, that’s why some entities are using this strategy for their own advantages. 

Origin of Greenwash

It all started when Jay Westervelt—New York environmentalist made mention in his 1986 essay, the practice of one hotel industry of placing poster ad in each hotel’s room promoting to save the environment by reusing the towels. At the end of his essay, he concluded that the main objective or the underlying purpose of this green campaign is to increase every hotelier’s profit rather than actually saving the environment. So, Westervelt labelled these kinds of activities as “greenwashing”. 

History of Marketing Greenwash

The idea of marketing “greenwash” started and emerged when most of the consumers only received their news from television, radio and print media, and they don’t have the luxury of fact-checking the products and services the way we can do today. In the mid-1980s, oil company Chevron authorize a production series of expensive print and television ads to broadcast the environmental dedication of the said company. While, on the other side, Chevron run the infamous “The People Do campaign” which violates the Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act and also spilling oil into wildlife refuges.

Whereas, in 1991, DuPont— a chemical company launched its double-hulled oil tankers with ads featuring marine animals prancing in harmony of Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy”. Meanwhile, it turned out that the DuPont Company was one of the largest corporate polluters in the U.S. at that time.

Although marketing greenwash has minimally changed over the last 20 years, it is still certainly around the world. As the world increasingly embraces the pursuit of greener activities and practices, the corporate world also faces an influx of legal disputes encompassing misleading environmental product claims.

In February of 2017, Walmart paid $1 million to settle certain greenwashing claims that alleged to be the nation’s largest retailer that sold plastics but were touted as an environmentally responsible company. California state law legally prohibited the sale of plastics labelled as “compostable” or “biodegradable” when the environmental officials have determined that those claims are deceptive and misleading, having no disclaimers about how quickly will the product biodegrade in the landfills.  

Even the water industry tries to overexposed its greenness. Most of the water industry printed their bottles with images/icons implying being green such as mountain ranges, lakes, nature, wildlife and etc. But they use plastic bottles. Arrowhead promotes its Eco-Slim cap and Eco-Shape bottle made with plastic while claiming, “Mother Nature is our muse.”

However, in 2010, a study was conducted and showed that 4.5 percent of the tested products were found to be truly green as compared to 2 percent in 2009. In 2009 there are 2,739 products that claimed to be green while in 2010 the number increase to 4,744. Nevertheless, the same study in 2010 also found out that 95 percent of the consumer products claiming to be green were not totally green but rather making misleading claims.

Types of Greenwashing

1. Environmental Icons and Imageries

Some companies use different kinds of imagery, icon, or logo of nature, leaves and animals just make the packaging appealing to a greener nature. This is a simple way of classic greenwashing. In reality, most genuinely eco-friendly products use only simpler images and sometimes plain packaging.

2. Misleading and Deceiving Product Labels

Certain products are labelled “eco-friendly” “100% natural”, “organic-based materials” and other green words without any supportive information to prove what the product actually claims. The sad truth is products can be labeled with these words easily, who knows if it’s just self-declared or self-created for the sake of marketing.

3. Hidden trade-offs

Companies can easily made-up an act of being environmentally friendly and sustainable to the environment but doing the other way around through non-environmental friendly trade-offs. For example, claiming to be natural or the products are made from recycled materials but it’s actually made from exploitative materials.

4. Irrelevant Claims

Sometimes, there are products that claim to be free from certain substances and chemicals which are banned by the law, but still using to market the products and make the people think that their product is actually safe to the environment and people. 

Seven Sins of Greenwashing

According to the Home and Family Edition, there is almost 95 percent of consumer products that claim to be green and were discovered of committing one of the so-called “Sins of Greenwashing”. 

There are seven sins of Greenwashing, which are stated below:

  1. Hidden Trade-off Sin – it was committed by simply suggesting that the product is “green” solely based on an unreasonably narrow set of attributes without attention to other important environmental issues.
  2. No Proof Sin – it was committed if the environmental claim of the product or service is lacking in supporting information or not supported by a reliable third-party certification.
  3. Vagueness Sin – it was committed if the claims are poorly defined or defined in a broader sense that causes misleading facts and were likely confused consumers.
  4. Worshiping False Labels Sin – it was committed when a claim, delivers either through words or images, gives the impression of certain third-party endorsement when in fact, there is no such endorsement exists.
  5. Irrelevance Sin – it was committed by simply making environmental claims which appear to be true but is irrelevant to be used as product labels, just to meet the demands of consumers who are seeking for environmental products.
  6. Lesser of Two Evils Sin– it was committed by making claims that appear to be true within the product category, but making greater distracting risk to consumers through the bigger environmental impacts of the category as a whole.
  7. Fibbing Sin – it is committed by simply making fallacious environmental claims.

In 2008, Ed Gillespie modified the 7 sins of greenwashing and added another 3 additional indicators, which are as follows:  

  1. Suggestive Environmentally Pictures Sin – products that use images or icons that imply an unproven green impact like flowers or leaves imagery.
  2. Just not Credible Sin – A claim that is attempting to broadcast the eco-friendly attributes of dangerous products, such as cigarettes.
  3. Gobbledygook Sin – claims that use jargon words or information that the average person cannot comprehend.

Why 'Marketing Greenwash' should be addressed?

Greenwashing is a marketing strategy that is existing even in the past few years, what makes it alarming is it was becoming more and more prominent all over the world due to the growing green products demands of consumers. Products, goods, technology and services claiming to be “green” are what most people wanted to buy for it can save and sustain the environment, however not all manufacturers, companies or businesses can comply with this green movement, some are just making false claims or doing greenwashing just to be “in” and mostly to market their products and services. More of luring consumers to buy their products by irresponsibly using green labels. 

With this globally spreading marketing strategy, consumers should be more careful about buying these products/services that claim to be “green” by checking the facts and labels of the products.

And sometimes this marketing strategy is being used to make the price of the product higher than usual, they will just add a “natural” or “organic” label in their product. Down the line, not every company and manufacturer is practicing this greenwashing strategy.  

As regards to the companies, organizations, businesses or manufacturers, they should be more careful as well in making product claims, particularly claims about being environmentally friendly. There’s no problem in making product claims as long as it claims what it really claims and not just for the sake of marketing and advertising. Complaints about your products can be easily reached the Advertising Standard Authority (ASA) so ensure that you make every claim genuinely.

This greenwashing marketing strategy should be addressed as soon as possible for it can cause harm not only to the public’s health but also to the environment. 

News about Greenwashing

Greenwashing: Busting “eco” labels (CBC Marketplace)

What’s in a label? Corporations ‘greenwashing’ your products

Greenwash today, suffer tomorrow

Wal-Mart’s Greenwashing Campaign – The Ring Of Fire

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