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Greenwashing - how do you spot and avoid green fakery?

Posted by Anna Carlini on 15 June 2016 at 11:50 am

Beware green fakery!

It is common to see a company, government or other group promote environmental initiatives. But how many of them actually subscribe to such environmentally friendly values? Many companies spout green rhetoric, but their actual business practices are counter to the claims they have made.

Greenwashing is when the marketing of a product focuses on the environment and sustainability, but the same concerns are ignored when it comes to the manufacturing or performance of products. Many companies exaggerate their claims, or manipulate the consumer to make their products seem more environmentally friendly than they really are. 

When you replace an appliance you want to know that you are getting the best deal. But does an option really have superior energy efficiency? Or is it just being marketed as such, while there is no environmental benefit at all?

Although tight laws are now in place to prevent greenwashing, it still happens more often than you think!

For Example…

In 2013 Coca-Cola was accused of greenwashing because of unsubstantiated claims made by its 'plant bottle'. This was labelled as being carbon saving, and was accompanied by green imagery, promoting its "eco-friendliness". When asked to back up their claims, Coca-Cola was unable to provide any evidence. The company was subsequently told to change its marketing techniques.

In a statement a spokesperson for Forests of the World, Kristian Jørgensen, stated that Coca-Cola “sinned against almost all principles when it comes to guidelines for good and fair marketing concerning environmental claims.”[1]

 The different types of greenwashing and how to spot them:

  1. Exaggeration

Adverts often overstate or exaggerate how green the company or product is. Are the claims believable? Does it seem likely or even possible?

  1. Omission

The advert leaves out or masks important information, making the green claim sound better than it is. Is it ignoring a particular area? Is it shining a light on one environmentally friendly thing that the company or product does, while hiding aspects which are not?

  1. Vague or unsubstantiated claims

Many adverts make claims that are vague or seemingly unprovable. Consider whether an advert specifically states its green benefits. Does it provide a source for these claims? Does it offer a way to get more information?

  1. Clever use of graphics.

Watch out for visuals and graphics that feature lots of green, trees and rainbows? It may be that the product is leading you to assume that it is good for the environment, without making any actual claims! Don’t fall for it! Do your own research, and see for yourself whether there is any proof.

Now you know, you can avoid it!

Now you know how to spot greenwashing, you have a chance to avoid being taken in by it. It will pay to do your own research into individual companies to see whether their green credentials add up.

You could email a company, or write to them, asking them to give evidence to back up their claims. One good approach is to contact them through a public medium such as Twitter. This should force them to give an accurate answer, and if they can’t then this may publically shame them.

But the future could be bright

Ending on a more positive note, we know that many manufacturing operations are now literally doing all they possibly can to make their manufacturing processes sustainable. When, for example, a product range carries the Cradle to Cradle Certified badge of honour, you know the manufacturer in question is very serious about doing the right thing by the enivronment. A growing collection of accredited products can be found on the Cradle to Cradle Marketplace website.


  1. International Business Times
  2. Greenspec

Image: jdog90

If you have a question about anything in the above blog, please ask it in the comments section below.

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