Greenwashing: 7 tactics to fool the consumers!

On your weekly visit to the grocery store, how many times have you seen the word ‘all natural’ or ‘Earth-Friendly’ or ‘Eco-friendly’ on the products? As you go shop from your favorite apparel brands, do you find a ‘Conscious Collection’ or a “Sustainable Collection” to shop from?

In the last few years, sustainability has become one of the most important decision-making criteria for consumers. In fact, a report by Capgemini states that 72% of Gen Z and 66% of Millennials say they are willing to pay more for organic foods when shopping for groceries.

Global Consumers Seek Companies That Care About Environmental Issues

As people become more ‘responsible’ consumers they prefer buying from ‘green’ companies. Leading an eco-friendly life, being vegan, etc. are on-trend. This lead brands and corporations to advertising their products as ‘eco-friendly’ or “recyclable’. Beauty products are becoming ‘non-toxic’ and ‘cruelty-free’, and packaging is becoming ‘recyclable’. But should we believe them? 

Advertising something as eco-friendly does not mean it is in reality. To hop on the current trends, many companies have been greenwashing us.

What is Greenwashing?

Greenwashing occurs when a firm makes unsupported claims to deceive people into believing that their products are eco-friendly or sustainable. This allows businesses to appeal to conscious customers without having to make significant changes to their business methods. Which isn’t cool for us or the planet we live on.

Businesses find adding a logo of a leaf to their product and calling it eco-friendly way easier and cheaper than actually making fundamental changes in their production process. This has its drawback on the consumers.

Environmentalist Jay Westerveld coined the term “greenwashing” in 1986. When most people got their news from mainstream media channels that businesses use- television, radio, and print. Due to a combination of limited public access to information and infinite advertising businesses were able to position themselves as caring environmental stewards. But the truth in real is far more alter.

While some greenwashing is unintentional and stems from a lack of understanding of what sustainability is. Omit it is done on purpose through a variety of marketing and PR activities. But all kinds of greenwashing have one thing in common: IT IS MISLEADING!!

As a result, environmental problems remain the same or more likely, worsen, as greenwashing leads well-intentioned consumers down the wrong path.

TerraChoice published a study of retailers in North America, Australia, and the United Kingdom in 2009. The marketing organization examined  thousands of items with green claims and came up with some startling and alarming findings. 98 percent of items, according to TerraChoice, were guilty of, what they called as ‘The 7 Sins of Greenwashing’.

What are the 7 Sins of Greenwashing?

1. Sin of the hidden trade-off

This is committed when businesses cast benefits of their product while hiding or ignoring concerning environmental issues. As an example, paper. It is not eco-friendly because it comes from sustainably harvested forest. Businesses should also highlight harmful process in it’s manufacturing. Like Chlorine use in bleaching, and greenhouse gas emissions. 

The “Sin of the hidden trade-off,” according to the original Terrachoice research, was by far the most common, [accounting for 57 percent of all occurrences of greenwashing.]

2. Sin of no proof

This is committed when businesses fail to backup their eco-friendly claims with actual proofs. Hence, claims about the environment must supported up by certification and science. Businesses cannot claim that their products are “emission-free” or “all-natural” unless they can back up with equal practices. Many businesses are hesitant to disclose their manufacturing processes, although they must do so when making definitive environmental claims.

As an example, businesses claims facial tissues and toilet paper consists of recycled materials. But in truth, they fail to provide proofs.

3. Sin of vagueness

Sometimes, companies make claims that are extremely ill-defined or are so broad that it confuses consumers. For example, being ‘Chemical-Free’ does not really mean anything. Nothing is free of chemicals. 

Even water has chemical components. ‘All-natural’ is another example of how businesses baffle customers. Things like mold, chemicals and bacteria could be considered “natural,” but do you really want it in your surface spray?

4. Sin of irrelevance

Businesses usually make claims that are completely beside the point and won’t be a deciding factor while choosing eco-friendly products. But these claims confuse consumers into thinking the product is a sustainable choice. These claims are often true but irrelevant. 

For instance, given that chlorofluorocarbons are already prohibited by law. Hence, “CFC-free” branding is meaningless.

5. Sin of lesser of two evils

Some product categories are just inherently bad for the environment and health. Like, large trucks, pesticides, and flights all create a huge carbon impact. Some corporations will create a somewhat more sustainable product and advertise it as “green,” despite the fact that the basic product is still extremely harmful. 

Organic cigarettes are no good. When something is as harmful as tobacco, no amount of organic can make it a ‘good’ product for consumption.

6. Sin of fibbing

We’re talking plain lying in this case. If a corporation claims that its product is additive-free or free of dangerous substances and it is simply not true. The company is committing the sin of fibbing. This type of greenwashing is pretty uncommon though. Products claiming to be “Energy Star Certified” when they have not been endorsed by that entity. 

Manufacturers are more inclined to mislead than to lie, owing to the risk of being sued. One such example is the infamous Volkswagen scandal of 2015.

7. Sin of false labels

When businesses construct a fake third party certification. Just like a product using green jargon such as ‘eco-preferred’, to mislead buyers. It leads them into believing that a product has gone through a valid green certification process. Saying “eco-preferred” does not mean they are certified.

What's at risk with Greenwashing?

Greenwashing is all about misleading, about showcasing one thing to divert your attention away from what’s really going on. The main concern we see is that greenwashing takes up vital time and resources from the fight against environmental issues.

We’re approaching a critical juncture where more businesses and individuals are adopting sustainable design and zero-waste living practices. Societies and governments are banning disposable plastics. It’s critical to be able to spot greenwashing quickly and replace it with truth. The idea is to give an honest transparent information to the consumers.

As consumers, we need to be aware and research the products we buy. When we take a stand to safeguard the environment, corporations and the government will have to listen. These corporations will not voluntarily sacrifice their profits for the greater good of humanity. This begins by supporting or joining organizations or movements aimed at influencing our laws in order to safeguard the environment. 

Choose your right to information!

This blog is originally written by Ishita Paul. She is a Economics student from IPCW, University of Delhi. and a long time contributor to the Mission Sustainability.