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What is greenwashing?
The Basics

What is greenwashing?

The Basics is a series that breaks down the essential questions of purposeful business.
9th Sep 2021

What is it?

It appears that Greta Thunberg and David Attenborough have finally broken through to people, with 60% of internet users saying they’ll pay more for eco-friendly products. That’s great news for the environment, but many businesses aren’t willing to invest. Enter: greenwashing – when a business makes their products and services appear more eco-friendly than they really are.

Who’s done it?

So.many.companies. Standouts include Chevron oil’s 1980’s ad campaign that highlighted caring for the natural environment, while at the same time, they were releasing four hundred million barrels of toxic oil waste into the Amazon Rainforest. 

Or more recently, the clothing brand H&M. They’ve recently launched a new, bright, young, bold marketing campaign, featuring posters with the words “eco-warrior & climate crusader” in order to appeal to the activist generation.

Meanwhile, their Conscious Collection – which claims to be made from at least 50% recycled materials – has actually been found to contain more damaging synthetic materials than its normal collections (72% compared to 61%). Plus, globally, 80% of clothes aren’t yet reused or recycled

Other brands like Boohoo have also been criticised for pleading green while continuing to contribute to fast fashion – selling dresses for as little as 8p.

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Why it’s an issue

Greenwashing attempts to improve a company’s public facing image with regard to environmental issues without actually addressing or changing their environmental policies. 

It also attempts to capitalise on the environmentally conscious consumer without having to actually put the work into becoming a sustainable business. Products branded as being more ‘green’ than their competitors are sold at a premium cost, while consumers have no means to fact check how ‘green’ the product really is.

How do you not do it?

Some businesses do have genuine intentions when it comes to selling ethical products. But slick marketing campaigns must be backed up with meaningful action behind the scenes or else they’ll lose the trust of their customers (and worse, could end up destroying the planet while they’re at it…)

  • Transparency. A lack of information, or vague or misleading claims, leads to a lack of trust. It’s always better to make a less impressive – but more authentic – claim rather than lying. 
  • Acknowledging shortfalls. Acknowledging shortfalls or past malpractices demonstrates transparency, awareness and authenticity in the pursuit of sustainability. 
  • Company-wide sustainability. Rather than just focusing on making the public-facing aspects of a business environmentally-friendly, a true commitment to sustainability will see the entire business develop green policies. This includes corporate offices, delivery methods, supply chains and more.

Further reading on greenwashing, why it’s harmful, and how to avoid it:

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