What is Greenwashing and How is it deceiving us?
In the past few years, we have become increasingly conscious about the environment & the impact of what we consume. We feel less guilty on purchasing products which are Eco- friendly. We, though, don’t have the time to research thoroughly for all the products we buy. So, if there is any ‘eco-friendly’ claim made by the product, an average consumer will purchase it without doing much research.
This is where Green Marketing comes in the picture. But what is wrong with Green Marketing? Nothing. But if it is used to deceive people into buying products, Green Marketing becomes “Greenwashing”.
What is Greenwashing?
Cambridge Dictionary says greenwashing is designed “to make people believe that your company is doing more to protect the environment than it really is”. It basically means falsely claiming (intentionally or unintentionally) that you are eco-friendly when you are not. It is evident if a company is spending more time and money claiming to be “green” than actually following eco-friendly practices in their regular business.
What it does?
It misleads consumers into buying the “greenwashed” products as opposed to genuine eco-friendly ones. If the consumer stops feeling guilty, he won’t explore truly sustainable alternatives. Additionally, greenwashing also does not help in furthering sustainable goals and circular economy initiatives. Companies who are genuinely investing in making their processes more sustainable may lose out to powerful corporations who market themselves as being 'Green'.
Most companies (esp. the giant corporates) have their primary objective of increasing shareholder wealth. This can be done by either increasing sales and cutting costs or both. Some companies want to use “eco-friendliness” as a way to capitalize on the sustainable trend and push the sales of their product. Their decisions, more often than not, will be based on profitability rather than sustainability.
Starbucks - In 2018, in response to increased calls for banning plastic straws, Starbucks introduced a new straw-less lid that actually contained more plastic by weight than the old straw and lid combination.
McDonalds - In 2009, European McDonald's changed the colour of their logos from yellow and red to yellow and green; a spokesman for the company explained that the change was "to clarify [their] responsibility for the preservation of natural resources."
H&M – H&M launched their sustainable clothing series called ‘H&M Conscious’. Even though the proportion of their sales through this series would be minuscule, it helps in marketing H&M as a Green company. Fast Fashion, inherently is unsustainable. We would be kidding ourselves if H&M would like to take a hit on their top & bottom line in order to become a truly sustainable brand.
On its website, H&M states that their recycle bins are a way to ensure that customers’ textiles are reused and don’t end up in landfills. Nowhere does it state that it is only a percentage that is recycled. (Of the clothes sent to H&M’s sorter of choice, I:Collect — the company that handles the donations for H&M — says that only 35% of what’s collected is recycled at all).
Artificial ponds for Ganesh idol immersion – What do you think happens with the water after the immersion? The water remains untreated and is then pumped into storm drains leading to sea and other water bodies. Although, not for sale of product, this is also a type of Greenwashing done by local Municipal Corporation.
You can find some other examples here.
What we as consumers can do?
Greenwashing is difficult to spot and now it’s becoming more sophisticated. In some cases, greenwashing is unintentional, where companies who market the product may not be completely aware about the negative aspects of their products. But in many cases, greenwashing is used to change the image of the company and drive more sales.
There are a lot of words which are thrown around loosely like, “All Natural”, “Organic”, “Vegan”, “Eco-Friendly”, “Green”, “Sustainable”, “Compostable”, “Bio-degradable” etc. There are no set definitions for these terms and may not carry much substance other than to induce you to consume that product. Be skeptical about such marketing and try to judge the genuineness about the claims.
Don’t get carried away by the environmental imagery used on the product or marketing. Having forests and mountain photographs on the package make it more eco-appealing but it might just be a distraction.
Eg. A company may market that their product is compostable. But if it is compostable in a particular facility, which is not there in your city, then that marketing is a form of Greenwashing.
Look out for Third party certifications and labels on the product. For example, Organic cotton can be relied upon if it has been certified as either ‘GOTS’, ‘BCI’ or ‘OCS’. ‘Energy Star’ is one such certifications for electronics.
Get aware & spread awareness
Check out for product reviews before making a decision. Additionally, provide reviews so that others can make an informed decision too.
Call out, on social media or otherwise, instances of Greenwashing that you encounter. This will make corporations not resort to greenwashing practices.