Nowadays, every responsible citizen cares about the environment more than ever. Everyone collectively does the best they can using biodegradable straws, reusable glasses, recycling regularly, and many more are considering buying an electric car in the future. So the interest around companies and brands that operate ethically and sustainably, has grown. And the big companies "giants" know this.
According to a Porter Novelli/Cone survey, 87% of Generation Z say they are concerned about the environment and future of the planet while 73% of Millennials are willing to pay more for a product that is sustainable. And somehow greenwashing comes to target these "anxious" consumers using marketing techniques. These are basically advertising and new product launching practices that companies claim are both environmentally sustainable and their products, when in fact they do very little for the environmental impact that ensues. This is extremely harmful and immoral as it uses the needs of consumers and allows the respective companies to continue to destroy the environment while at the same time generating profits.
While environmental regulations and policies against these misleading sustainability claims are far more powerful than ever, greenwashing is still a huge problem to which many companies are guilty. Following are more information on the main examples of greenwashing as well as simple ways we can use to detect and avoid this phenomenon.
Greenwashing terminology may have first appeared in 1986, but unfortunately it is far from a thing of the past. The big companies are still investing millions of dollars in campaigns targeting environmentally "anxious" consumers, with the main industries where this phenomenon occurs, to follow by examples.
The oil industry is one of the biggest culprits regarding greenwashing. Many companies have announced significant investments in "climate change mitigation strategies" as part of their commitment to being environmentally responsible. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), however, has accused many of them of greenwashing, noting that the natural reduction of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere did not compensate at all for the continuing greenhouse gas emissions by these companies.
Thus, they may be presented to consumers as companies that use only renewable sources of electricity, but many of these statements come after the purchase of green certificates without being able to prove on their own that they obtained them. In fact, many of these companies continue to spend heavily today amounts in fossil fuel energy sources. Recognizing a company as a morally conscious company while still investing in fossil fuels is a shocking example of greenwashing.
The aviation industry has also made a fuss as several companies claim to be extremely efficient in terms of carbon emissions. These ads are aimed at consumers who are concerned about the environmental impact of their flights. Finally, many of them have been banned by various regulators around the world, as these allegations have been found without sufficient evidence.
Instead, old data is used to support claims of profitability and deliberately omit important information and statistics from other competitors. Clear handling of statistics and vague data analysis is a classic greenwashing sign that consumers should be aware of.
The fashion industry itself has a very strong greenwashing phenomenon and most of these companies have been or are still at the center of greenwashing. Many of them have released over the years some "conscious collections" of clothes that claimed to be environmentally sustainable clothing lines with organic cotton and 100% recycled polyester. A simple blouse made of 100% polyester uses about 20,000 liters of water during the production process. It is therefore quite difficult to see how any clothing line could be described as sustainable.
There are also several recycling programs, where you can return old clothes in exchange for a coupon (of course for internal use in the stores themselves). Most of these old clothes are shipped to developing countries where the company gets rid of them. How we do not know, but we know that they would need approximately 12 years to reuse only 1,000 tons of recycled clothing. Therefore, these marketing strategies are designed to convince consumers that these companies are interested in the environment and operate sustainably. But in reality they are interested in customers who buy new "fast fashion" clothes and where possible with the help of greenwashing to increase their sales.
The best way to detect the greenwashing phenomenon is to challenge the practices of the companies from which we buy products and look behind their superficial statements. Caution is also needed where there are many claims for sustainable practices while there is a lack of clear information and data. Really viable companies always have clear and detailed information about their products available on their websites. Some complementary ways to identify companies that use greenwashing as a marketing tactic are:
We are now in 2021. Climate change is real and action must now be taken. However, large companies continue to use greenwashing as a marketing technique to continue their wasteful production processes and unsustainable business models. It is very difficult to stop using fossil fuels, flying and buying new clothes. But as consumers we have the power to take individual actions that can collectively make a difference.
The first step in tackling greenwashing begins with awareness. Awareness of what we consume and search for the viability claims of a particular company. If we all start consuming less and consciously and at the same time identify and avoid companies that use greenwashing then we can start to hope for a better and sustainable future of our planet.
*Greek version of this article is available on Naftemporiki.