The green movement is booming as conscious consumers realize the disastrous impact of corporate greed on the environment, local communities, and ecosystems.
So many businesses try to appeal to mindful customers marketing themselves as eco-friendly when they are not. This deceptive practice is called corporate greenwashing and has long-term disastrous effects.
Companies claiming to be green are greenwashing and hurting themselves, society, and the environment. Here is everything you need to know about the terrible consequences of greenwashing and what you can do about its dangers.
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Definition Of Corporate Greenwashing
A company is greenwashing when it's making misleading claims about the environmental benefits of its product or service. This marketing practice is used to make it appear more environmentally friendly than it truly is.
Corporate greenwashing is a way for many organizations and businesses to differentiate themselves from the competition. By promising a more efficient use of resources, less pollution, waste, and carbon emissions, they catch customers' attention.
Greenwashing is a marketing strategy used to increase sales and position brands in a better light. It aims to only show what consumers want to see without enough care for the environment.
According to the Oxford English Dictionary, greenwashing is:
"Disinformation disseminated by an organization, etc., so as to present an environmentally responsible public image; a public image of environmental responsibility promulgated by or for an organization, etc., but perceived as being unfounded or intentionally misleading."
Effects Of Greenwashing On Society
Greenwashing has terrible consequences on society because consumers won't trust environmental-related claims in the future, regulators will impose restrictions, and progress towards sustainability will be impaired.
With corporate greenwashing being rampant in so many industries, it has become very challenging for conscious consumers to tell if an environmental claim is accurate or not.
Many consumers make purchasing decisions based on their emotions. Greenwashing is making use of that behavior and tap into the good conscience of consumers.
Companies saying all parts of the truth are very rare. When it comes to green products, companies will oftentimes only show what consumers want to see.
A large majority of green-labeled products are in reality greenwashed. Using green wording such as natural, bio, organic, eco-friendly, sustainable, or recycled holds little meaning without proven facts backing the claims.
Pretty phrases or green packaging deceive mindful consumers when products are presented without any supporting information. Many products don't have any environmental benefits but companies keep marketing them as green or eco-friendly.
Consumer demand for more environmentally responsible products is still rising rapidly. In America, 40% of consumers are now choosing green products over other options, according to Cone’s Green Gap 2008 survey.
And environmentally friendly consumer behavior is a global trend happening all around the world, according to National Geographic and Globescan’s latest Greendex study, which surveyed consumers in 18 countries.
The upcoming economic downturn will eventually decrease the demand for environmentally friendly products. But it will remain a priority for a lot of consumers.
During the economic recession of 2009, Cone conducted the Consumer Environmental Survey with 1,087 U.S. adults and found that the demand for environmentally responsible products remained strong with the state of the economy.
44% indicate their environmental shopping habits have not changed as a result of the economy. Unfortunately, greenwashing continues to grow as the demand for green products rises.
The advertising consultancy TerraChoice Environmental Marketing concluded in a study on greenwashing from 2006 and 2009 that within 2,219 products making green claims, 98% of them were guilty of greenwashing.
The corporate greenwashing trend is not only present in the fashion industry, but also in food, travel, transport, beverages, cleaning products, automobile, consumer electronics, personal care, and cosmetics.
People want products that are better for the environment, without misleading claims or marketing messages.
If greenwashing continues, the consequences on society will be devastating. Consumers will not trust environmental-related claims in the future, and regulators will impose restrictions.
Greenwashing also prevents the development of a sustainable economy. It slows down sustainability efforts drastically and makes it more difficult for consumers to understand the impacts of their purchasing decisions as they struggle to differentiate between valid and invalid claims.
Effects Of Greenwashing On Businesses
Greenwashing has disastrous effects on businesses because deceptive marketing practices are damaging to reputation. Consumers are very likely to punish companies using greenwashing with fewer sales.
Companies have to be careful about how they present their products. Consumers are demanding greener products and the industry struggles to meet them.
Companies use greenwashing as the easiest solution when they don't have the willingness or the ability to deliver on what eco-aware consumers are expecting.
Green business is booming. Adopting green business practices is becoming a profitable strategy. Greenwashed products have been around for many decades. The issue is that their number is increasing at an alarming rate.
Eco-conscious consumers are willing to pay more for eco-friendly products and brands are expecting high growth from a favorable public image and higher profit margins.
But many green-labeled products or services don't have the environmental benefits they claim. They often present no supportive information.
Many businesses claim to reduce their environmental impact when in fact a large proportion of their activities remains detrimental to the planet. A company or organization is greenwashing when it:
- claims green production by narrowing a set of attributes and hiding the rest.
- commits to environmental protection without enough proof to back it up.
- uses unverified labels or phrases with no inherent significance such as 100% green.
Businesses using greenwashing as a marketing strategy risk facing disastrous consequences such as hurting their reputation, losing customers, partners, employees, and dealing with legal actions.
Greenwashing is illegal. It's an extremely unethical practice. Using it to solicit consumers' trust and make more money is condemnable.
The US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has warned about this marketing practice. This agency protects consumers from unfair and deceptive practices.
The FTC developed the "Green Guides" in 1992 and revised them in 2012 to help businesses avoid making misleading claims and provide guidance for companies to abide by the FTC Act when communicating environmental claims.
The FTC requires the following general principles for environmental claims:
- The environmental message must be clear and prominent, taking into consideration relevant language and proximity to the subject.
- The environmental attribute should clearly refer to a product, a service, packaging, or a portion of any of these.
- The claim should not overstate the environmental benefit, explicitly or by implication.
- Any comparative claims should clearly present the basis for the comparison.
Many businesses and brands have been accused of greenwashing recently. They faced a lot of repercussions and finally stopped making misleading claims after FTC complaints. The FTC has filed several complaints in the past about many greenwashing cases were reported.
According to Claudia Malley, National Geographic Society Vice President:
"Companies have recognized the importance the environment plays for their long-term business operations, whether it’s manufacturing, product development, marketing, and communications, or employee satisfaction. There are many avenues of conveying environmental leadership to consumers and constituents. But because everyone has become more aware and sophisticated in understanding environmental issues, whatever form the message takes, it needs to be authentic."
People want to support and buy from companies they believe in. Businesses have to use accurate communication to remain credible.
The consequences of getting it wrong are seen as greenwashing and damaging to reputation. Consumers are very likely to punish companies using greenwashing with fewer sales.
Avoiding deceptive environmental claims should be a concern to all companies. Greenwashing presents many dangers and is hurting many industries and businesses.
Businesses have a strong role to play in improving the state of the planet. Companies have to develop and communicate their role in environmental stewardship to earn the trust of consumers.
More corporations should step up their efforts and communicate them effectively. Sustainability-focused companies will have better performance as they focus on long-term strategy, not just short-term gains.
We are at a critical moment in redefining the role of business in society. Improving one's own environmental reputation should not be the end goal. Companies have to take up their new role in society and contribute towards a more sustainable planet.
Effects Of Greenwashing On The Environment
Greenwashing has disastrous effects on the environment because consumers are more likely to unknowingly buy a product or service that is highly polluting, being unaware of its terrible environmental impacts as they think they are supporting a green company.
Businesses want to appear eco-friendly by claiming that their products have a lower impact on the environment when, in reality, their activities remain highly polluting.
The market for ethical and sustainable products is rapidly expanding, creating new opportunities for green marketing strategies. Businesses are greenwashing to increase sales and position their brand in a better light.
Many companies are looking for ways to reduce their carbon footprint, waste, pollution, energy, and water consumption. But the claims they make must not mislead consumers in the process.
Conscious consumers are concerned about the environment and want to play their part by supporting companies that make efforts to protect the planet and implement sustainability initiatives in their operations.
For consumers, it's very challenging to tell if an environmental claim is accurate or not. The growing economy accompanied by an increase in deceptive marketing strategies has a disastrous impact on the planet, underserved communities, and ecosystems.
Consumers all over the world are becoming increasingly more aware of the alarming rate we are currently destroying our home, the Earth. They care for the environment and society's bigger issues.
Companies want to be perceived as making positive environmental and social impacts to appeal to the conscious customer. Unfortunately, many businesses market themselves as eco-friendly when they are not.
Greenwashing causes consumers to support companies that destroy the planet and ecosystems unknowingly. Businesses making misleading environmental claims still have a large proportion of their activities detrimental to the planet and its inhabitants.
Think of increasing pollution, destruction of ecosystems, piles of wastes, hazardous chemicals, and greenhouse gas emissions. Big oil companies and coal mines aren't the only culprits.
The fashion industry is also one of the largest polluters worldwide. Clothing production and consumption are extremely harmful to our planet. It also kills thousands of cotton farmers and factory workers every year.
As consumers, it's difficult to tell what is true or not and choose who to support with our money. By buying from businesses that are greenwashing, people are supporting a largely polluting company, inadequate manufacturing processes, and ineffective waste management systems.
More and more people are concerned with the impact of corporations on the environment, the planet, people, and animals. That doesn't mean that they will tolerate shortcuts to answer their demands.
Greenwashing causes huge problems that affect the global human environment, including people, animals, and the Earth. It's apparent in almost all marketing practices around environmental issues.
Greenwashing is responsible for majors disasters by exploiting consumers' genuine environmental concerns and threatening real improvements for a more sustainable future.
How To Avoid Greenwashing
As a conscious consumer, you can spot greenwashing and avoid buying from companies that are greenwashing. This is how to recognize and avoid greenwashing:
- Fluffy language, words, or terms with no clear meaning
- Green products made from dirty companies
- Suggestive pictures and green images that indicate an unjustified green impact
- Irrelevant claims emphasizing one tiny green attribute when everything else is not green.
- Claiming a product is slightly greener than the rest, even if the rest are pretty terrible.
- Claims that are just not credible
- Jargon or information that only a scientist could check or understand
- No proof or evidence to back up claims
- Lying with totally fabricated claims or data
The best way to avoid getting greenwashed is to investigate and do a bit of research to separate companies that are truly green from those that are only pretending.
If you are an organization or business that want to avoid greenwashing when marketing your products, you should:
- Know your products' biggest impacts
- Be transparent
- Bolster your claims with independent verification
- Avoid making claims "in a vacuum."
- Enable and encourage consumers to act
- Understand your customers and target different market segments in different ways
- Anticipate game-changing technology
- Participate in the rule-making
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About the Author: Alex Assoune
Alex Assoune (MS) is a global health and environmental advocate. He founded Panaprium to inspire others with conscious living, ethical, and sustainable fashion. Alex has worked in many countries to address social and environmental issues. He speaks three languages and holds two Master of Science degrees in Engineering from SIGMA and IFPEN schools.