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A detailed guide to greenwashing


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A detailed guide to greenwashing

Business owners who care about the planet are now looking for ways that can help to make environmentally responsible purchases. Unfortunately, all your attempts to purchase from companies that claim that they make better decisions for the environment may not provide the benefit you believe. Simply put, you can be falling victim to greenwashing. Today, this shady advertising has become common, so it’s a good idea to know how to avoid greenwashing. By now you may be wondering what this greenwashing is all about. This article is a detailed guide to greenwashing.

Understanding greenwashing

Greenwashing is a marketing ploy that is designed to make goods appear more sustainable than they are. It is a common way businesses use to convince their customers that their companies are making positive environmental choices. They usually use eco-conscious terms designed to convince clients that the products are more wholesome, natural, or free of toxins than their competitors.

This term was first used in the 1980s by Jay Westerveld who wrote an essay criticizing the hotel industry for taking advantage of the guests; environmental sensibilities. There was a movement that was disguised in an attempt to convince guests to assist hotels to conserve water so that they could save the planet. But the hotel only reduced laundry labor expenses for this hotel while making a small difference in water consumption.

In this way, businesses utilize greenwashing to attract customers who are environmentally conscious without even any meaningful changes in their practices. Therefore, most greenwashing companies usually spend a lot of money and time marketing their products’ eco-friendliness rather than making sure that they are sustainable. Remember that most customers are ready to pay more money for eco-friendly products, so they tend to consider the sustainability of a product before they decide to purchase it. 

While greenwashing can seem harmless, the truth is that it’s often far worse. The problem is that it may confuse consumers and even distract them from real eco-friendly initiatives. Few businesses practice greenwashing maliciously. Quite often, it is sometimes just a misunderstanding by the customers and marketers. Regardless of this, unintentional greenwashing can spread false information when it comes to what is needed to be sustainable and may force well-meaning consumers to make bad choices. 

One good example of the issues with greenwashing is associated with single-use plastics. Most of the plastic produced nowadays is not recycled. Worse still, most of it eventually ends up in the oceans, where it affects the ecosystem. As a result, most businesses are now trying to change the reputation of their plastic products and enhance customer enthusiasm for them.

Bioplastic is an example of this initiative. These are made up of bio-based polymers rather than petrochemicals. This material is usually regarded as good for the planet as it can break down faster than traditional plastics. It’s worth mentioning that these natural plastics must have specific conditions to degrade and need access to sunlight and oxygen, which can be scarce in landfills.

Besides, most of them need the use of other plastics to produce them or set in them to hold various components together. There are benefits associated with using these materials. But single-use plastic water bottles tend to have an even worse reputation. 

Identifying greenwashing

Greenwashing has evolved over the past decades, and it’s becoming harder to identify, especially to the untrained eye. One of the signs of greenwashing is selective disclosure. Most companies usually highlight positive environmental things about their goods, but they intentionally avoid mentioning any negative facts. For instance, an auto manufacturer can praise a car’s fuel efficiency but ignore the environmental damage mining practices that are involved in making its lithium battery. 

Symbolic actions are also common in most companies. They often draw customers’ attention to minor positive actions that don’t even change their overall environmental footprint. You can also find some oil companies that donate dish soaps to help clean infected animals after their oil spills in oceans. 

Some companies also use hidden trade-offs. A brand can advertise new changes as green but ignore their negative effects. For instance, there are some straw-free lids that companies use to avoid wasting plastic, yet these lids use more plastic.

There are also some brands that may greenwash by making a broad statement that is filled with buzzwords concerning their sustainability that tend to be too vague to mean anything. For instance, non-toxic, new and improved, and produced with biodegradable materials. Alternatively, the package surrounding a plastic toy can be labeled recyclable, but they don’t clarify whether it’s referring to the toy, package, or minor components of either.

Companies greenwash their goods by making technically true claims that are not relevant to their impact on the environment. For example, a paper company can claim that its products have all-natural materials or an aerosol spray that is advertised as CFC-free. Likewise, this applies to a trash bag that is labeled recyclable. After all, the purpose of this bag is to be placed in the trash. And, the label can show an environmental benefit that may be realized if you empty your trash bag, rinse it out, and then put it in the recycling process after use.

You can also find some meaningless labels. Most brands use meaningless labels that sound great but don’t have any official backing behind it. For instance, a brand can use phrases, such as made with natural ingredients rather than indicating an official certification.

Greenwashing companies can also utilize phrases that are technically true but give the customers a distorted perception of the goods they are purchasing. For instance, an apparel company can indicate that its shirts are now produced with fifty percent recyclable fibers yet they only increased the amount by two percent of the overall garment. This may be true, though the benefit is overstated. 

Lastly, it can sometimes take to greenwash to market goods in visually attractive packaging. For example, a tissue company can decorate its packaging with green leaves to show that the paper was sustainably harvested by mentioning this on the packaging. Other brands can even include small images that resemble official logos for environmental certification, though they may be meaningless.


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