How to Identify Greenwashing
Greenwashing is a deceptive marketing strategy that preys on those concerned about the environment. They know that millions of consumers seek eco-friendly commercial products. It’s just a way in which companies try to associate their goods with sustainable production.
This is a deception because, far from being environmentally friendly, these products generate the same pollution as always, only that they present their work with an environmental perspective. For example, by using green labels, confusing terms or images of nature.
All these strategies are encompassed under the term greenwashing; a way to wash the image of companies and bring them closer to customers with environmental concerns. There are different ways to identify when a product is environmentally friendly and when it is appealing to advertising gimmicks.
What does “greenwashing” mean?
You may have heard of Greenwashing. The color green refers to everything related to environmental protection, sustainable production and consumption aimed at reducing global warming levels. On the other hand, washing refers to a cleaning or bleaching that only represents an image and not what is behind it.
For this reason, greenwashing is a term that refers to the methods that companies use to portray themselves as environmentally friendly. However, they do not concretely intervene in any environmental aspect, such as in the production or distribution of their goods.
Green marketing is also considered when the investment in advertising or green façade is greater than the actual attempts to reduce carbon emissions. This happens with numerous everyday consumer companies and is also not a new phenomenon.
It is therefore important to identify when greenwashing is occurring. This avoids deception and reduces the general skepticism that this practice generates among consumers.
When did it start to be used
The term was coined in 1990 by the English writer, botanist and naturalist David Bellamy. He said it during the celebration of International Mother Earth Day, which takes place on April 22 each year. By that time, Bellamy had already noted corporate practices that emphasized bogus environmental credentials.
It is a variant of whitewashing, a word that refers to general image-washing strategies in companies associated with illegal or unethical practices. It may appear to be just another deceptive action, but greenwashing has serious effects and consequences on consumers:
- Deception: the logical effect is that it appeals to fallacious images that do not satisfy consumers’ environmentalist demand.
- No change: of course, this practice does not contribute to keeping global warming below 1.5 degrees Celsius, an urgent objective ratified during the last COP.
- Skepticism: greenwashing generates skepticism among consumers, thus affecting brands that do take measures to reduce their emissions.
Sometimes, it is difficult to recognize their beneficial or harmful potential.
How to identify greenwashing?
There are a number of actions that should be taken into account to identify possible greenwashing practices. As these are marketing strategies, the analysis of logos, words, slogans, and images is fundamental. The more information you have about how the company produces, the easier it is to identify its true environmental responsibility. It is also very important to know how the goods are composed. The environmental NGO Greenpeace prepared a report in which it identifies different green marketing strategies.
One of the most common actions is the incorporation of specific words linked to sustainability in product packaging. For example, the terms “natural, ecological, sustainable” and even “green” may appear on a soda bottle that has nothing to do with sustainable practices.
Labels in greenwashing
Another greenwashing strategy is the incorporation of labels on packaging. This is a way of confusing consumers with official environmental care labels issued by regulatory organizations.
They can be small green leaves, logos of the same color or large references to recycling. But these are details added by the brand itself to confuse.
Some products often contain 1 or 2 ingredients of natural origin within an overall composition with little link to environmental aspects. The strategy consists of highlighting the presence of these components. It is therefore important that users inform themselves and read the labels of the goods in detail to avoid falling into deception. This is often the case with food and cosmetics.
The color par excellence of ecology is green. It often refers to trees, forests, grass and the whole natural environment. For this reason, companies modify part or all of their product range with green tones to create a sense of environmental responsibility. However, this may be a practice of eco-whitening.
Promotion through photos or animations depicting natural environments is common in greenwashing. The emission of fuel with trails of flowers or the mere presence of trees and forests do not imply any environmental responsibility.
Some examples of greenwashing
Many brands engaged in greenwashing to generate an image of environmental responsibility in front of users. Especially during the 1990s and 2000s, when awareness of global warming grew. In the meantime, the responsibility of the entire population for the problem was more clearly identified. At the same time, changes in consumer habits were taking place.
Some companies that are as popular as they are polluting are fast food chains. To improve its image, McDonald’s changed the color of its brand in some European countries in 2010.
This was a typical case of greenwashing, since the campaign consisted only of changing the red to forest green in the logo. A strategy to demonstrate social and environmental responsibility, while the production of their goods continues to contribute to the deforestation of the Amazon.
Another area where it is common to appeal to greenwashing is the energy sector. While using misleading words and meaningless terms, they continue to invest in fossil fuels, one of the most polluting activities.
Nuclear energy is often promoted as sustainable because of its low emissions, although its representatives often ignore the type of fuel it uses.
An integral example of greenwashing is the launch of Coca-Cola Life, a variant of soda that combined sugar with sweetener. The campaign included a green-labeled package with the word “life”, referring to a supposed link to the environment. It was also accompanied by the slogan “Uncover your nature.”
Activia yogurt is an old product, Bio, a prefix referring to life and ecology. However, in 2004, the European Union banned the use of this term, together with eco, on foods that did not originate from organic farming. Therefore, the practice of greenwashing became evident, since the brand had to modify the product name.
Combating greenwashing has its benefits
Many marketing teams work to generate subtle strategies that are increasingly difficult for consumers to identify. Therefore, it is essential to have the tools and information to avoid falling for greenwashing.
In this way, it is not only consumers who benefit. So do companies working to improve their production processes and achieve a transition to sustainability. This is not a simple or quick task and goes far beyond an image or a simple change of name and color.
All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.
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