In simple terms Greenpeace define it as
“a PR tactic that's used to make a company or product appear environmentally friendly without meaningfully reducing its environmental impact”
Effectively it’s a deception tactic where products are marketed as environmentally friendly when they are not. Consumers are tricked into believing that products or services have more of a good impact on the environment than they actually do.
Another definition attributed to Greenpeace is “when you spend more on Marketing your sustainability than you do on solving the problem”.
Which comes down to the intent behind your claims, or the intent behind whether you actually care about climate change, whether you care about trying to diffuse the ticking carbon time bomb.
But why do companies greenwash?
The main reason that companies or organisations greenwash is to appeal to the rapidly growing environmentally conscious consumer. For example if a fashion company claims to be sustainable, using sustainably sourced materials this is going to place them at an advantage with consumers over other fashion rivals. Greenwashing is a simple way for companies to pretend they care about the environment, without actually putting in the work, whilst increasing their profit.
There are actually calls to name and shame companies.
This is a major issue within a society that is trying to do everything it can to combat climate change. Greenwashing can lead to people who are actively trying to be a part of the solution to becoming unknowingly a part of the problem, due to misled marketing or false claims. But more than this it undermines people’s trust in sustainability claims, meaning they invest in them less, as a whole which hinders the progress that needs to be seen to slow global warming.
In a study conducted by an online retailer called OnBuy, in 2020, it was found that 83% of consumers feel misled by sustainability catchwords. This stops people from buying from brands that are actually sustainable because they think it is more false marketing. Greenwashing is a major setback in the mission towards sustainability and becoming more eco friendly.
3 Simple rules to ensure you aren't greenwashing
To ensure your business is not contributing to this problem there are a few simple rules you can follow to be one hundred percent sure you are not greenwashing.
- Be very clear about what sustainability benefit your company has
Make your claims very understandable and specific, in terminology that everybody will know. Don't use fancy words that will confuse the consumer about the true sustainability of your product. Also do not try to blur the truth about the eco friendliness of your product, its packaging or the business surrounding it, this way there can be no confusion and no accusation that you are greenwashing. For example, 20% of the energy used in production for Adidas is renewable, they are specific with the fact it is only 20% (for now) so customers are not tricked into thinking they use entirely renewable energy.
- Collect evidence that backs up your sustainability claims
Prove that the claims made by your business about its lessening impact on the environment are verified by third party certifications and check up regularly on this statement to ensure your claims are still true (Eg) SKOOT, B-Corp
- Don't give a false impression when marketing your product
Only use images that are relevant to the claims that you are making. For example, changing your logo to green or having images of trees surrounding your marketing if you are not actually making a product that is sustainable or if you are not using renewable energy and offsetting carbon emissions is greenwashing.
You need to ensure you
- Identify your carbon footprint
- Remove your carbon footprint
- Avoid creating a carbon footprint
If you only follow one of these strategies and invest heavily in it and talking about it, there’s a real danger that you begin to fall into the greenwashing camp.