What is Greenwashing and how are brands using it?

Not everything that quacks is a duck

In the current era, sustainability has become a hot topic around the world. Concerns about climate change, scarcity of natural resources and environmental degradation have led to an increase in consumer environmental awareness.

In response to this growing awareness, many brands have embraced green marketing as a way to attract consumers concerned about the environment. However, in this search for profits and a positive image, some companies have resorted to what is known as "Greenwashing".

What is Greenwashing?

The term "greenwashing" is derived from the combination of the words "green" (environmentally beneficial) and "whitewashing" (cover-up or whitening). In essence, greenwashing refers to the practice of a company presenting a falsely positive image in terms of its commitment to sustainability and respect for the environment.

But instead of implementing genuine environmental practices, these companies use marketing and public relations tactics to give the impression that they are respectful of the environment when, in reality, they are not.

Blowing smoke

In one of the most notorious examples, Volkswagen gave itself a very black eye back in 2009, when it launched a massive marketing campaign to promote its “clean diesel” VW and Audi cars.  “Green has never felt so right,” an Audi commercial bragged.

Only problem was, VW had rigged its cars to cheat on government emissions tests. It cost the company nearly $3 billion in fines and did serious harm to its reputation.

Other examples of Greenwashing

Greenwashing can take many forms, and some of the most common tactics include:

  1. Misleading labeling: Companies often use green labels and labels on their products to give the impression that they are environmentally friendly, even when only a small percentage of their components are.
  2. Use of environmental keywords: Brands use terms such as "green", "sustainable" or "environmentally friendly" in their advertising without providing concrete evidence of their claims.
  3. Misleading images: Images of nature and the environment are used in advertising, creating a visual connection between the brand and sustainability, even if there is no real relationship.
  4. Non-transparent charitable initiatives: Some companies donate a small amount of their profits to environmental charities and advertise it as a significant commitment to sustainability, when in reality it is a minimal fraction of their income.

Why do brands resort to greenwashing?

Brands resort to greenwashing because they see sustainability as a marketing opportunity to attract consumers concerned about the environment. This can lead to an increase in sales and an improvement in the brand image, even if the sustainability claims are not true.

What can consumers do to avoid greenwashing?

Greenwashing can have a significant impact on consumer decision-making. Many people want to make greener choices, and when they are deceived with false information, they feel betrayed and disillusioned.

To do this, consumers can take measures to avoid greenwashing by thoroughly investigating brand claims, looking for credible evidence of sustainability and supporting companies that demonstrate a genuine commitment to the environment.

Are there regulations against greenwashing?

Greenwashing is not only an ethical problem; it can also have legal implications. Regulatory authorities can take legal action against companies that make misleading claims about their environmental practices. This can result in substantial fines and damage to the brand's reputation.

Some countries have implemented regulations to address greenwashing, but the application may vary. Consumer organizations also play a role in the pressure for brands to be transparent and honest in their environmental claims.