Greenwashing is a term that was coined in the 1980’s by environmentalist Jay Westerveld, who saw the inconsistency in hotels that did not employ concrete recycling programs but encouraged the reuse of towels by patrons. Greenwashing is used by compannies to showcase that they are being sustainable even when they are not. Greenwashing has become rampant and here we breakdown how to spot greenwashing.
It refers to the promotion of green-based environmental initiatives or images without the implementation of business practices that actually minimize environmental impact (or any of the other negative effects of their businesses). It is also defined as the “dissemination is misinformation by an organization so as to present an environmentally responsible public image.” (Oxford English Dictionary). This practice often includes misleading customers about the actual benefits of a product or practice through misleading advertising and/or unsubstantiated claims, in order to “create a benefit by appearing to be a green company, whether that benefit comes in the form of a higher stock price, more customers or favored partnerships with green organizations.” (Investopedia).
Steps to identify greenwashing:
Often products/campaigns include vague labels like “Eco-Friendly”, “All Natural”, “Sustainable”, “Biodegradable” “Good for the planet”, “Recyclable”, “Energy Saving” and leave out informational context. It is wise to remember that just because something is recyclable does not mean it gets recycled. Terms like this leave the onus of research on the consumer.
2) Check the percentage of sustainable products on their product line
Brands who claim sustainability usually only have a small range of “sustainable products” but that particular one is used to promote how environmentally conscious they are. If brands truly cared about sustainability, all or the majority of their products should be sustainable.
Brands often make very vague promises of sustainability. If the brands don’t have detailed information of practices, steps taken, materials used, policies and programmes they are probably holding information on the lack of sustainable impact. If there is a lot of talk but no evidence to back it up, they’re probably not doing the things they claim.
Look for information that the brand is hiding.
4) Research into history of the brand
Simply look up the brand and their past issues. You can do this by searching “Company name – Greenwashing” or “Company Name – scam”.
5) Ask the brand
If the brand is willing to offer information into their practices, that’s a great sign. If not, it’s better to proceed with suspicion.
6) Look for certification
Check if the brand is certified by reliable sources who work on the issue. If they claim to be 100% sustainable cotton, look for a certification for the same.