Where do we even begin with this sad story...?
Greenwashing may be one of the most disappointing things of modern day corporate capitalism. On one hand, companies are getting away with making themselves seem like they give a toss about the planet. On the other, they continue to pollute, use toxic chemicals, and waste untold amounts of water and produce.
Corporations seem to think that by showing they are doing some good, consumers will continue to buy their products. By using an array of lame, gimmicky terminology (which we’ll get to below), consumers are being duped into purchasing even more products.
“To make people believe that your company is doing more to protect the environment than it really is.”
“Expressions of environmentalist concerns especially as a cover for products, policies, or activities.”
Five ways to spot Greenwashing:
Insight 1: Does this business have something to gain by appearing green?
Just about every business is trying to sell a product or service. Successful brands tend to rely on emotive draw cards – from ‘hype’ exclusivity, to high end luxury.
Recently however, the voices of Gen Z activists like Greta Thunberg are being listened to, and brands are using ‘Eco’ tactics to lure dollars.
In fact 66% of a 2015 Nielsen poll said they’d pay more for sustainable products. No doubt that number keeps rising.
How do we know if using words like ‘Sustainable’, ‘Eco’ or ‘Conscious’ part of their marketing tactic? More often than not, these are what we like to call ‘Nonsense Words’. Anyone can slap these labels on any product. Without significant evidence, it’s all just hot air.
Genuine certifications really help with trust, and TreeHugger has a great page on them. Turns out a lot of people are happy to pay a bit more for sustainable products. Big business knows this, and many of them are exploiting this fact.
Insight 2: Are the claims even relevant?
‘90% naturally derived’. Lol this one makes us laugh. Just about everything is naturally derived, including most of our chemicals. That doesn’t make it environmentally friendly! You could cut down thousands of trees and displace untold numbers of koalas, and still be 100% naturally derived. For shit’s sake Palm Oil is naturally derived, yet it’s removing rainforests and Orangutans faster than Trump can say ‘cheeseburger’.
“CFC Free” – also, completely irrelevant. We stopped using those over 30 years ago.
Adidas claimed “No aliens were harmed in the making of these shoes”. Don’t sue us please, that’s a joke.
What tends to bug us as well is claiming a supply chain is slavery free. It feels like we’ve really set the bar low here. Slavery is a horrendous crime and should be punished, much like murder.
Insight 3: Would it be easy for this business to lie?
Transparency is everything when it comes to avoiding greenwashing. Social Impact Statements are a great start – but they need figures and stats showing improvement. We’ve seen some for example, that just go around and round in circles, like this bullshit:
- “Sustainable, clean and eco-friendly products”
- “Engaging with experts on becoming carbon neutral”
- “100% vegan, bio-based.”
None of these claims are backed up, nor is anyone holding their breath.
Further to this, claims like “100% biodegradable” are disingenuous. Plastic is biodegradable, it just takes around 400 years or so. Compostable on the other hand is a better place to start.
Organic cotton – says who? Has it received GOTS certification? 100% Vegan – again, according to whom?
So many smaller brands are out there trying to make waves and do it right. Inventing new materials, sharing their processes and keeping a clear supply chain. Really try to research the brands you buy from. It doesn’t take much to figure out who your favourite brands are.
Insight 4: If this is a large company, do they own other businesses that may be making an environmental mess?
Nestle for example will smile and claim no more plastics in its food packaging by some distant day in the future like 2030. Yet they continue to plunder forests in Ghana and the Ivory Coast for Cacao plantations. Never mind the claims of child slavery. They’re literally responsible for some of the worst pollution in the world.
Doing one good deed does not make up for the bad ones.
BP may be putting solar panels on their gas stations, but they’re responsible for absolutely shattering the Gulf of Mexico. Deepwater Horizon was a disaster of epic proportions, and quite frankly, history will judge our generation for allowing BP to still exist. This is a company stained with the blood of its employees (15 killed in a Texas explosion in 2005) as well as decimating an entire fishing industry in the Gulf. But don’t worry guys, there’s solar panels going up on the gas stations!
Why is this so bad?
Ultimately, greenwashing is a deceitful tactic used for profitability that completely erodes the trust of consumers. These giant corporations use sneaky methods to dupe buyers into purchasing more products behind the veil of ‘green’. If it’s so easy to blatantly lie and deceive in environmental matters, then what else aren’t they telling us?
Zara has been criticized for greenwashing in the past, and fast fashion alone is an enormous contributor to climate change. Entirely new wardrobes every week is resulting in the burning of excess clothes. Tonnes of water and chemical pollutants are just scratching the surface of this problem. And if Zara is deceiving on the environmental front, we can only imagine what we’re not being told about the welfare of its 175,000 employees…
Look, we one hundred percent understand… THIS SHIT IS HARD.
No one expects consumers to know what all this stuff means or how far certifications go. Please understand we’re with you on this. But also know that these greenwashing corporations understand consumers don’t have the time to Google every product they buy.
Hence why it’s so easy for Big Business to deceive.
We’re one of many businesses trying to fill the void here. We aim to call out the companies actively greenwashing, and highlight the ones doing it right. It’s one hell of a journey, however we’re seeing more and more small businesses actually making a positive impact on both people and planet. They understand they need to be more transparent.
Hang in there team.