Consumers today are on a journey towards more intentional and conscious shopping habits. With our access to the internet providing us with limitless resources to fact check and research, we are capable of holding brands and companies accountable when we can prove there is evident wrongdoing on their behalf. Due to this increase in consumer awareness, brands and corporations that have no intention of carrying out environmentally or ethically friendly initiatives are distorting their image in order to attract more eco-conscious consumers. These companies are subtly deceiving shoppers into believing that their products are friendlier to the environment than those of their competitors to capitalize on the demand for more sustainable goods. This process is called ‘greenwashing’.
What is 'greenwashing'?
Coined by environmentalist Jay Westerveld in 1986, the term “greenwashing” is used to describe an exaggerated or often false impression that a brand and its products are environmentally considerate. “Greenwashing” is used in marketing and advertising strategies to target consumers who are searching for eco-friendly products (not to be confused with green marketing). Brands will include green or natural imagery on their product’s labels to evoke a more environmentally conscious focus regardless of their actual environmental impact or efforts. In addition, brands will use green rhetoric that appeals to environmentally conscious consumers by focusing on the brand’s small efforts and minimizing their ecological footprint.
Greenwashing is an ethically problematic issue for all consumers and brands alike. No one should be duped into purchasing goods from brands that bend their image in order to attract consumers who are trying to engage in better purchasing habits. Transparency is key in order for consumers to feel confident in the products they choose to purchase. When brands are deliberately deceiving to sway consumers in their direction, they’re diluting the credibility of other brands who are making progressive strides towards a great change.
Here are some ways to identify and avoid greenwashing:
- Be wary of green imagery
The packaging of a product has a large effect on how we view the product. If it has green imagery or any nod to nature at all, look a little closer - it could be the only thing “natural” about it.
- Do your research
If a product has a label stating a bold statistic or claim, look it up. If it’s vague or confusing, it’s most likely a greenwashing tactic. If the facts don’t add up, it’s probably not true. You can also check the ingredients; if the ingredient list doesn’t correlate with the claims, the product is being greenwashed.
Keep an eye out for diversion tactics
A lot of brands try to divert potential consumers’ attention by emphasizing the good parts of their brand and/or product in their ads despite their contradicting flaws or drawbacks. For example, a brand that may source its ingredients naturally will represent its product as a gift from nature but in reality, the company might be responsible for major ecological issues in the region. Pay close attention to what the ad is showing and not showing.
Take a closer look at the claims
Many brands will exaggerate minimal efforts to keep up against their competitors. A common example of this is when plastic products have labels that state that they’re made with x% less plastic. While it sounds like progress is being made, plastic is still plastic, and a percentage change is a start but isn’t enough to make a fundamental difference in the sustainability of their production practices.