In today’s environment-conscious world, it’s becoming more common to hear people rave about a company that makes big waves in the community for going “green.”
Not every company is as committed to sustainability as they would have you believe. Known as greenwashing, it’s a term used to describe companies that attempt to deceive their customers into believing they are green by hiding the damage they do behind false marketing.
Greenwashing is one thing that allows harmful companies to gain credibility for their environmental claims. Let’s look at what greenwashing is and why it’s a harmful practice.
What Is Greenwashing?
Greenwashing is a common phenomenon. Many people want to feel good by purchasing products from companies that commit to environmental initiatives that decrease their environmental impact. Some companies have found ways to exploit this desire.
In a word, greenwashing is a spin that makes it seem like a company, product, or service is more environmentally friendly than it is. It’s an effort to show that a company is “going green” without making meaningful changes.
A company may use greenwashing in ads, on its website, and on social media to convince consumers that it’s doing more for the environment than it is. In some cases, companies are simply exaggerating their commitment to sustainability.
But in other cases, they’re damaging the environment by making green claims that aren’t backed up by real action.
Here are some reasons why greenwashing happens:
- Consumers want to buy products that are good for the environment, so greenwashing makes consumers feel like they’re doing something good.
- In some cases, companies don’t know that they’re doing anything wrong because they don’t have enough general information about sustainability or environmentalism.
- The government doesn’t regulate what companies can say about themselves to be sustainable or environmentally friendly (yet).
- Sometimes, companies just want to make money off green trends without investing in actual sustainability practices like reducing waste or energy consumption and positively impacting the environment.
- Greenwashing can help a company increase sales by creating an association between its brand and environmental benefits.
- Greenwashing can help create an illusion of social responsibility among consumers who care about environmental impact.
- Greenwashing can help protect against bad press related to environmental issues (such as pollution).
- Greenwashing can help avoid legal action by regulators concerned with protecting the environment.
How Does Greenwashing Harm a Brand’s Reputation
When it comes to building your brand’s reputation, one of the most important is avoiding greenwashing at all costs. Even if your company doesn’t engage in greenwashing practices, associating with such companies could tarnish your hard-earned reputation.
Here are some ways greenwashing can harm a brand’s reputation:
“Greenwashing” Makes It Harder For Consumers To Trust Companies
When consumers see an ad for a product or service that claims to be better for the environment but isn’t true, they have trouble trusting that company again in future advertising campaigns. This makes it harder for them to trust future promotions from your company.
Greenwashing Damages Brand Reputation Among Businesses
The perception of greenwashing has become so widespread that many companies now check each other’s claims before buying from them to ensure they’re not supporting a business that exaggerates its eco-friendly credentials.
As a result, eco-friendly companies could be penalized by competitors faking it.
A brand may also face legal action if customers feel misled by false claims about sustainability efforts or environmental impact. For example, if consumers believe that products contain recycled materials when tests reveal otherwise.
What Are the Types of Greenwashing?
The following are just some of the many ways companies have tried to pass off their products as “green” in recent years when they’re not:
Companies often make broad statements about their products being “green” without proving that such claims are valid.
For example, a car manufacturer may say that its new model has lower emissions than previous models but not give any specific information on how they achieve this.
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) doesn’t allow companies to make unproven claims that they don’t have evidence for — and even if they do have evidence, it must be clearly stated in their advertising.
Many products have labels that boast about how green they are and what they contribute to saving the environment. However, these labels can be misleading because they do not tell the whole story about how sustainable or environmentally friendly a product is.
These labels may also give consumers the wrong idea about how much impact they are making when purchasing a particular product instead of another one with similar claims on its title.
For example, if you buy organic cotton clothing but find out later that it is produced unethically, you are a victim of greenwashing tactics. Look for third-party certification from trusted sources.
Companies may claim that environmentally-friendly products have replaced an ecologically harmful practice as part of their greenwashing efforts.
For example, a company that pollutes might replace its use of plastic bags with recyclable plastic bags. But, they may use materials that cannot be recycled, like when McDonald’s introduced paper straws in 2019. Although the straws were said to be recyclable, they weren’t.
The Non Sequitur
The non sequitur is a phrase that means “does not follow.” It’s often used to dismiss an idea or argument as irrelevant or baseless.
A company may claim that its product doesn’t use a particular material and then boast that it is healthier. Those two things don’t always go together. Consider both parts of a company’s statement to determine if the logic follows.
Forgetting the Life Cycle
Some companies or individuals don’t think about where their products come from, how they’re made, and what happens to them when they’ve outlived their lifespan or usefulness. Ignoring a product’s life cycle could mean using recycled materials but not considering whether or not you should have used those materials in the first place.
For example, using recycled paper to print flyers for an event may seem reasonable because it saves trees. Are disposable fliers necessary? When an item gets thrown away at the end of its natural life cycle, it doesn’t help anything.
What Are Good Examples of Greenwashing?
Volkswagen’s “Clean Diesel”
The German automaker Volkswagen was caught in a scandal when they found that their cars were emitting higher-than-allowed nitrogen oxides (NOx). The company used software that lowered NOx emissions during government testing but allowed the vehicles to emit up to 40 times the legal limit when driven on the road.
The scandal cost Volkswagen billions of dollars in fines and legal fees, but it also tarnished its reputation as a company that made environmentally-friendly vehicles.
To make matters worse, after the scandal broke, Volkswagen started promoting its newest diesel models as being “cleaner than ever before.”
EasyJet’s “Less C02”
EasyJet’s “Less C02” campaign was one of the first examples of greenwashing. The airline claimed that its flights produce fewer carbon emissions than car journeys, but only because it flew fewer miles than other airlines. The company also made the unfounded claim that its planes were more fuel-efficient than other airlines.
EasyJet later admitted the campaign was misleading but refused to apologize. They did not think they were dishonest. EasyJet stated that they did not intend to mislead people and explained their position clearly in their adverts.
Keurig’s “Recycling Claims”
Keurig was criticized for misleading claims about its ability to recycle its K-Cups. The company claimed that they efficiently recycle the pods at any Keurig products store. However, this was inaccurate and led to increased waste from consumers who didn’t find options for recycling their pods and tossed them in the trash instead.
What’s the Difference Between Greenwashing and Green Marketing?
Greenwashing is the practice of promoting a product or service as environmentally friendly when it is not. It is particularly common in the food industry. Food companies know that many people want to eat healthier, so they often label their products as “natural” or “organic.”
But these terms have no legal definition, meaning that it’s easy for companies to use them without actually following any specific standards. On the other hand, green marketing refers more generally to any marketing effort that promotes a business or product as environmentally responsible, even if it isn’t.
The main difference between greenwashing and green marketing lies in intent. With greenwashing, you’re trying to deceive people into believing something that isn’t true. You’re just trying to get people interested in your business through a dishonest portrayal of your company and its practices.
How To Avoid Greenwashing
Avoiding greenwashing means taking an active role in learning about the products you buy and the companies that make them.
Read labels carefully and learn more about the environmental impact of different materials, like whether they cause climate change and contribute to global warming via greenhouse gas emissions. If you’re shopping for raw materials for your products, look for companies with good reputations for sustainable products.
If you’re buying food or cosmetics, check out the ingredients list for potentially harmful chemicals or other substances that could pollute our air and water supply. Remember to check the packaging since packaging material can be detrimental to the environment, recyclable, reusable, or biodegradable.
In addition to researching products before purchasing them, it’s essential to stay informed about greenwashing and other environmental claims. You do this by keeping on top of current events related to climate change and other environmental issues.
When you don’t know what options to choose, go for the lesser of two evils — consider what impacts the environment the least.
Be skeptical of claims made by companies about their environmental impact. Look for Fair Trade or Rainforest Alliance Certified certifications on the packaging or in advertisements before buying anything from a company whose products get sold at your local supermarket or store.
Don’t rely on what companies say about themselves; look for third-party verification. For example, if a company claims that its products are eco-friendly, check if any independent confirmation of this claim is available online.
How Can Businesses Take Environmental Responsibility?
One of the most effective ways for businesses to take environmental responsibility is to practice transparency. Companies should be open about their efforts to build trust with customers.
If you want consumers to see your company as a leader in sustainability, you need to be open about what you’re doing and why it matters. Transparency also helps employees feel more connected to their work and feel empowered by decision-making.
For example, Whole Foods Market has been a pioneer in the grocery industry regarding food waste reduction. The company is transparent about its food waste figures on its website and its annual sustainability report.
Whole Foods Market even provides information on how much food gets wasted at each production stage — from farmers who cannot sell their produce due to cosmetic standards to consumers who discard leftovers after cooking meals at home.
Social responsibility is a broad term that encompasses a range of business practices and activities that go beyond the normal scope of business operations. It includes the company’s impact on the environment, the community, and employees.
The corporate social responsibility movement has been gaining momentum since the early 2000s, when more companies realized that environmental sustainability and social well-being were good for society and business.
Businesses that take responsibility for their actions positively impact their communities. You can make a positive difference in your area through many different means:
Green Initiatives: Businesses make an effort to reduce their carbon footprint and fossil fuel emissions by using renewable energy sources, recycling materials, recycling water, and reducing waste.
Businesses can venture into other initiatives and support green technologies such as electric cars or solar panels through their purchasing decisions.
Employee satisfaction: Companies can create more satisfied employees by:
- Offering flexible work schedules
- Offering regular training programs
- Offering opportunities for career advancement
- Providing transparency into the company’s sustainability claims
Hire internally instead of hiring from outside sources. The employee turnover rate tends to be lower when employees feel appreciated and valued by their employers.
Community involvement: When companies give back to the community by participating in volunteer programs or supporting local schools or charities with donations, it helps them build goodwill among consumers who appreciate this type of support.
The only way to make sustainable business practices work is to get your employees, customers, and suppliers on board. Sustainability initiatives have been around for some time now.
But how do you get your employees, customers, and suppliers to support them?
You need all three groups to get committed to the cause if you want to achieve real sustainability in your organization. While it’s not always easy to convince everyone that sustainability is essential, there are ways to help others understand its value.
Educate everyone about why sustainability matters. Employees might not be fully aware of just how much their activities affect the environment or how better their company looks if it took more responsibility for its impact on the planet.
They may also have no idea how much money they save by making changes such as switching from paper documents to digital versions or using recyclable cups instead of disposable ones in the office kitchen.
If you want staff members to support your sustainability projects, show them the benefits firsthand by letting them experience what it means for their company or society. Improve the experience by running an internal competition where teams compete.
Give incentives to motivate your employees further.
What Are Companies Doing Now To Prove Eco-Friendliness?
For years, companies have believed that they need to be environmentally responsible to stay relevant. But what does that mean? What are companies doing now to prove eco-friendliness?
There are many ways businesses take responsibility for their impact on the environment.
One of the most popular initiatives is recycling, which has become so commonplace that consumers almost expect it. You’re falling behind in your industry if you’re not doing it. But there are many other ways companies show their green side and make a difference in their community.
Solar energy has been around for decades, but it’s only recently become affordable for home users. Now that it’s more accessible, more people want to go green, which means more companies offer solar panels and other renewable energy options.
Donating Time or Money to Environmental Causes
Businesses donate money or volunteer their employees’ time to help improve the environment in their community or around the world. Some organizations accept donations of both time and money; others just offer one or the other, depending on their needs.
Using Less Packaging and Paper Products
To decrease their carbon footprint, many companies have started to measure the impact of their purchases. It is becoming imperative to determine where raw materials come from, what they are made from, and how they affect the environment.
Additionally, many companies are becoming more conscious of their supply chain and its factors in the environment. For instance, they use less packaging and single-use plastic products in their shipping process. They’ve also started using reusable containers instead of disposable ones for food deliveries or coffee purchases at cafes.
It helps make sure that they cut down fewer trees for these materials, which reduces deforestation and helps save the environment from pollution caused by manufacturing new paper products or plastic containers.
Also, companies are monitoring delivery methods and their impact on the environment by measuring how each product is transported from the warehouse to the end consumer.
Reducing Their Waste Production
Things like plastic bags and bottles take up a lot of space in landfills and pollute oceans if they aren’t recycled properly. Many companies have started banning these items from their stores to reduce waste production.
Making Recycling Easy for Customers and Employees
Some companies offer recycling bins at every store location so that customers don’t have to look for them when they arrive at their local grocery store or fast-food restaurant.
Making recycling easy for customers encourages them to recycle more often, which helps keep our environment clean and healthy. Other companies are also offering their employees a living wage as an incentive to help them afford sustainable living.
The Bottom Line
Imbalanced, confused, and misleading: that is the state of consumerism today. More than ever, companies are trying to greenwash their products. Honest consumers should be wary of this new trend and learn to distinguish greenwashing from legitimate marketing claims for green products that genuinely help the environment.
Now it’s time to pick the right packaging for your business. Contact us, and we’ll take you through your best child-resistant packaging options.