There are times when an Instagram post falls short, even two. There are times when a blog post falls short, even with two … That’s why I decided to write a series of posts about Greenwashing.
To be able to have the information of what’s going on at the moment and give you solutions to avoid it is very important. I don’t know if you have the same problem; but when I start reading about a topic that interests me, I investigate it, chew it well so that I can integrate it and make it part of me. In sustainability the same thing happens; it is not a change you make overnight. There are small series of steps that you integrate into your life and that little by little make you see everything in a different way; you just have to want it and take action.
So here we go!
What exactly is greenwashing?
I want to remind you that greenwashing occurs when companies change their objectives, products and policies to make them more environmentally friendly. This is done for various reasons, but specially to increase sales. It’s based on making us believe that companies have become eco-friendly; and that the responsibility to be sustainable lies with consumers. It is a problem because very important information is hidden and manipulated. In fact their main objective is to sell more products.
It’s important to know that there are companies that use greenwashing without realizing it; because of ignorance and lack of information. In contrast, there are others who use it knowing what they are doing and what they are doing it for. Both can confuse the consumer or make exaggerated claims.
How companies do companies use it
Here are 12 strategies that companies use to make a product or company look green and sustainable:
When you change your name, logo, slogan or motto it is called rebranding. It is something totally legal and normal, the problem comes when they do it to appear environmentally friendly and be sustainable when in fact they are not.
We see more and more green in our products and this is because we have associated this colour with nature and ecology. Companies know this and play with it by changing the colour of the lake, for example, or by adding more “green” images to provoke purchase.
When a company expands the benefits of its product by focusing on a small point that makes it bigger, what it does is leave aside the other information (which is usually a lot) that is not at all beneficial to the environment. For example, some products talk about their packaging being green, but do not explain that the product’s manufacturing process has significant social and environmental impacts.
Bragging about it.
In this case, an attribute of the product is advertised as if it were a voluntary environmental improvement by the company when it really isn’t. The most common case is that of CFCs (a family of gases used in the refrigeration and aerosol industry that cause a lot of environmental damage). Many companies claim that they do not have CFCs when it has been mandatory since 1989 when the Montreal Protocol was signed in which they committed not to use them.
Words are used that the consumer associates with “sustainable” and the color green. In 2004 the European Commission adopted a Community regulation making it clear that the terms eco, ecological, biological or organic and their diminutives may only be used for products from organic farming. Although on a smaller scale, this is unfortunately still being done.
A clear example is that of wet wipes. Some are advertised as bio-wipes or organic because they are made from materials from organic farming but are confusing because people think they can be thrown in the toilet, and that is a big management problem in sewage treatment plants and an attack on the environment.
Many companies use figures to say that their product is more sustainable than those of the competition. But they do it with techniques that disguise reality, such as not using percentages; that is, they talk about quantities, for example: “We avoided the emission of 3,300 kg of CO2 last year” sounds like a lot, doesn’t it? In fact, in the company’s global operation, this represents 0.3% of the company’s total C02 emissions. Doesn’t it look different now?
Lack of evidence.
This happens when arguments are used that the consumer cannot verify from the information they are given. Normally, labelling provides very limited information on product traceability (origin of raw materials, for example), yet advertisers claim things that even the most demanding certifications could not verify.
What they do is divert attention from what the companies really want. They make advertisements with good images and stories that catch on to distract customers from reading the real information about the materials and manufacturing methods they have used. This information is usually at the botto, with small print and the greenest statements in bold.
Technical information and vocabulary is used that is difficult for most earthlings to understand, making it more difficult to verify. Making it sound green is enough to get us caught.
Non-existent organizations and favored associations.
This happens when a product says it is endorsed by some organism that doesn’t exist. In addition, some companies make donations to environmental or social projects to appear socially responsible and have a good reputation. Strategic movements to cover up the harmful actions they are carrying out behind closed doors.
A good example would be an oil company that is doing an ocean cleanup project to protect the environment after an oil spill, as ExxonMobil did. Some 10.8 million gallons of crude oil were spilled in Prince William Sound, Alaska. Since then, ExxonMobil has spent millions of dollars in an attempt to regain public confidence. These initiatives are usually taken after the government has sounded the alarm by committing an environmental crime.
Making unconfirmed claims.
Some green and sustainable claims made by companies cannot really be identified, there is little information available. In most cases, the information cannot be scientifically verified, but marketing specialists make it seem legitimate.
When there is a connection between products and urgent issues that are affecting the world right now, such as climate change or coronavirus.
Now you know a little more about how some companies play with us, consumers. Does it happen to you too, that after reading this you want to start acting against greenwashing?
In my next post I’ll give you ideas on how to avoid it.
I’ll be waiting for you! Thanks for being there.