What Is Greenwashing?
Firstly, let’s go back to basics to fully understand what greenwashing is.
The Cambridge Dictionary defines it as:
"A method to make people believe that a company is doing more to protect and help the environment more than it really is."
It is a bad practice which unfortunately used by many of the large corporations and companies. In this article, I will explore the different areas where greenwashing takes place.
Greenwashing in play is often found in various forms of illustrative photography of wind turbines or black and white stylised images of a picturesque landscape in order to convey to the consumer that they “care”. It is ever-present in many sectors.
The Fashion Industry
One of the main areas greenwashing can be found within, is the fashion industry. Companies such as fast-fashion giant H&M are one of the worst.
To caveat the damage they bring about through the manufacturing of fast-fashion pieces they proposed an ‘eco-conscious collection”.
In this collection they decided to use a Circulose/Viscose blend. It’s a blend that uses 50% Circulose taken from old and upcycled cotton jeans and the rest taken from 50% viscose from FSC-certified wood.
They also brought in a “garment collecting scheme” for customers to bring in old or unused clothes which would be reimbursed with credit to spend in-store, only reinforcing people to buy more unwanted clothes.
However, many view this approach as unacceptable. This is a view backed by many activists, in particular, Venetia La Manna an anti-fashion campaign who noted it as a “box ticker”.
As much as the innovation of this new material is to be celebrated, she also notes that the core model is what needs to be changed.
This encouragement of over-consumption will ultimately never reach the required “net-zero target”.
Going forward into the future, greenwashing is going to have to be monitored as this term will be exploited by these companies in order to enhance their public image.
If consumers think these companies have the eco tick, it will encourage the consumers to buy more. Maxine Bedet of the New Standard Institute also noted that without a measurement of a business’s environmental footprint it shouldn’t be trusted.
But it’s not just the fashion industry that is greenwashing its consumers.
Who Else Is Greenwashing?
The Guardian found 5 companies whose ads were banned due to claims of greenwashing.
Among these were Shell, BMW and even Ryan Air. Ryan Air, the well-known budget airline was questioned by the “ASA” for claiming that they were the “UK’s lowest emission airline”.
The advert was eventually taken down due to “lack of evidence” to support the claim of low emissions.
Shell is a prime example of corporate greenwashing. They plough thousands of pounds in advertising and marketing to emphasis their sustainability to their consumers. Yet do not “warrant their claims” with evidence.
Greenwashing even spread into the food industries. For example, large chain and business McDonald's switched to paper straws. However, these straws cannot be recycled and thus can only be put into general waste. A key example of greenwashing in play.
Due to the growing noise around sustainability, consumers are going to know where to shop.
According to a 2018 survey conducted by the Changing Markets Foundation found that 2/3’s of people found it difficult to know which businesses and companies met sustainability standards.
How can we as consumers avoid being greenwashed? The key to not be taken in by expensive advertising and marketing campaigns.
Another key tip, if it’s a product, is to consider the packaging, is it recyclable? Can it be returned or is it compostable?
These would be positive indicators that a company is trustworthy and is not trying to greenwash its customers.
Also, always check the labels and standards that a product or company is supposed to adhere to. This is usually a key indicator if a company has legitimate care for the environment.
To conclude, greenwashing can be found everywhere and its effect on consumers is slowly being noted.
From food institutions to oil companies, everyone wants to put their name to sustainability and how “green” they are.
With consumers buying into it, especially with the current buzz and trend around sustainability. It affects and encourages them to buy more into the claims of these companies and their products.
Regardless of whether these companies want to help or truly make a difference to the planet or not.
It is a dangerous notion that is picking up speed, however, this is something that consumers should be wary of in the years to come.
AUTHOR: Imogen Green