Looking at the shelf of your nearest supermarket or drug store you might see many “green” products that were not there a few years ago. That is because of the consumers’ increasing interest in sustainability. According to Wall Street Journal, sales of consumer-packaged goods advertising sustainability in North America rose by over 30% from 2018 to 2022. Companies use this interest to produce goods that are supposedly “eco-friendly” and “green”. However, not all claims are true, and some companies are engaging in a practice called "greenwashing."
According to Greenpeace, “greenwashing is a PR tactic used to make a company or product appear environmentally friendly, without meaningfully reducing its environmental impact”. In other words, greenwashing is a form of marketing that uses environmental concerns to appeal to consumers, but the claims made are often exaggerated, misleading, or entirely false. Some common greenwashing tactics include using vague or undefined terms such as “natural,” “eco-friendly,” or “sustainable,” without any actual evidence to back up those claims. By this, companies aim to boost their public image and environmentally conscious consumers are enticed to buy their products.
With the recent rise of “green” products, one might think that greenwashing is a relatively new phenomenon. However, the term was already coined in the 1980s and there are even examples of greenwashing from before that time.
The issue with greenwashing is not only the misleading of customers. Companies who use this PR tactic continue with their business as before while pretending that they executed major changes for a better future. Thus, the planet-polluting procedures in their productions continue to harm our environment. Moreover, as many consumers are willing to spend more money on eco-friendly products, companies earn more and more money by greenwashing their products.
A famous example of greenwashing is the H&M greenwashing scandal. According to an investigation by the environmental campaign group Changing Markets Foundation, H&M, the Swedish fast-fashion retailer, has been showing bogus environmental ratings for its clothing. The ratings were displayed on the company's website and in stores as part of its sustainability initiative. The Higg Index scores, which are based on a set of sustainability metrics developed by the Sustainable Apparel Coalition, were allegedly inflated or inaccurate. The investigation claimed that H&M's use of these scores was misleading for customers, as the company continued to produce large amounts of fast fashion, which is known to harm the environment.
As an environmentally friendly person, those misleading products can lead to a lot of frustration. Greenwashing is not always easy to detect for consumers. However, if you still want to invest in eco-friendly products, there are certain strategies you can use to spot greenwashing:
- Look for specific and quantifiable claims. Companies that make vague or general statements about being "green" or "eco-friendly" without providing concrete information or measurable metrics may be engaging in greenwashing.
- Check for third-party certifications. Trustworthy certifications from independent organizations can assure that a company's claims are genuine.
- Research the company's track record. Look at the company's environmental history and see if they have been involved in any past controversies or violations.
- Consider the entire lifecycle of the product. Evaluate the environmental impact of the entire lifecycle of a product, from manufacturing to disposal, rather than just one aspect.
- Be skeptical of green marketing buzzwords. Companies may use buzzwords like "natural," "organic," or "green" to make products seem more eco-friendly than they are. Be wary of these claims and do your own research.
Overall, greenwashing is an ongoing issue which uses the good will of people to keep on harming the planet. Therefore, it is important to be aware of the tactics companies use to greenwash their products. By this, we can make more informed choices and make a positive impact on the environment. So, the next time you see a product claiming to be eco-friendly, remember to do your research, be skeptical of buzzwords, and look for specific and quantifiable claims. Let's work together to make the world a greener place.
Das, Leah. 2022, April 12. "Greenwash: what it is and how not to fall for it." Greenpeace. Retrieved April 22, 2023, from https://www.greenpeace.org.uk/news/what-is-greenwashing/#:~:text=What%20is%20greenwashing%3F,looked%20at%20in%20more%20depth.
Gibbens, Sarah. 2022, November 22. "Is your favorite ‘green’ product as eco-friendly as it claims to be?" National Geographic. Retrieved April 22, 2023, from from https://www.nationalgeographic.com/environment/article/what-is-greenwashing-how-to-spot.
Shendruk, Amanda. 2022, June 29. "Quartz investigation: H&M showed bogus environmental scores for its clothing." Retrieved May 3, 2023, from https://qz.com/2180075/hm-showed-bogus-environmental-higg-index-scores-for-its-clothing.
Wall Street Journal. 2023, April 21."Greenwashing: When Companies Aren’t as Sustainable as They Claim | WSJ" YouTube. Retrieved April 22, 2023, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2NsBcVrPQok.