Greenwashing 101: How to Recognize and Avoid Misleading Eco-Claims

Greenwashing 101: How to Recognize and Avoid Misleading Eco-Claims

As the world becomes more aware of sustainability, the dark truth behind fast fashion, and how this capitalistic world is affecting the environment, companies and brands are pressured to limit their carbon footprint and contribute to a healthier planet.

In theory, this is definitely something positive. But in reality, too many companies care too much about profitability they don’t want to invest in sustainable and local production practices.

So, instead, they put on a facade of sustainability, during which they continue to engage in wasteful and often unethical production practices. This phenomenon is called “greenwashing”.

With greenwashing, companies hope to gain a competitive advantage by attracting an eco-conscious audience.

In 2020, the European Commission did an extensive cross-sector examination and came to the conclusion that 42% of their sample used exaggerated, false, or deceptive green claims. Hence, it’s definitely a phenomenon that’s important to be aware of.

That’s why in this blog post, we will discuss what greenwashing actually means, what the common greenwashing strategies are that companies use, and how you can see through these false claims.

What does greenwashing mean?

Greenwashing is essentially when a company is conveying a false impression or misleading information about its contribution to the environment. These companies claim in their marketing and communication that their business operations have a greater positive environmental impact than they have in reality. Sometimes what the companies claim has some elements of truth, but fails to consider the whole picture.

Greenwashing can be either intentional or unintentional. If it’s unintentional, it can be due to a lack of ignorance (they just don’t want to know what negative impact their business operations have on the environment). Or it can be due to not being educated enough (they simply don’t have any idea that a certain product or ingredient is in fact not as eco-friendly as they assume).

Greenwashing — what does it look like?

In this section, we will go over some techniques that companies use to seem more sustainable than they are in reality.

Strategy #1: Using vague and fluffy terms

There are so many terms out there that are vague, poorly defined, and really broad. For example, some companies mention terms on their labels such as “green” or “natural”, which will give the impression to customers that these products are in fact good for the environment and don’t contain any toxic ingredients. However, these terms are so broad that they aren’t regulated in any way, which means that every company can mention these on their labels without any institution verifying this.

Strategy #2: Renaming, rebranding, or repackaging just for the sake of appearing greener

Another greenwashing strategy that companies use often is using “green” branding, such as using the color green or images from nature, like trees and flowers, to imply that their products or brand are eco-friendly when that’s not the case.

Strategy #3: Not backing up sustainability claims with actual data

Environmental claims should be backed by factual evidence or credible, third-party certifications. When companies convey that their products are in fact biodegradable, this is actually meaningless unless there’s evidence available to prove this is the truth.

Some companies also mention green certifications or the logo of green institutions, when in reality these third-party institutions haven’t endorsed them in any way.

Strategy #4: Mentioning irrelevant information on their labels

Another greenwashing strategy is mentioning “environmental features“ on labels (for example products mentioning they are CFC-free), to give customers the impression that the product is good for the environment, when this ingredient is in fact banned by law in many countries for over 30 years.

How can you see through these false claims?

Finally, here are some tips to verify if a brand actually is having a positive impact on the environment, or if it’s just greenwashing.

  • Take terms such as “green” and “natural” with a big grain of salt, and check the ingredient list instead. The fewer chemical substances the product mentions, the better. Also, the ingredient list is always ranked from the ingredient most used to the ingredient that is the least used. There exist apps (such as where you can scan the barcodes of products, providing you with a score and information about how environmentally friendly and natural products actually are.
  • Only believe sustainability claims that are proven with evidence
  • Check if there are any endorsements or certifications
  • Read the website's “about” page, and try to figure out where their production centers are
  • Don’t choose a product just because the packaging seems “greener”.

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