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Greenwashing - everything you need to know

Updated: May 25, 2021

Today in Way To Zero Waste we have come to talk about the well-known greenwashing. Not everything green is environmentally friendly, and today we tell you how to recognize a case of greenwashing and known examples that have sinned of this. Let's start!

The term greenwashing literally translates as "greenwashing", and is used to refer to the strategy of cleaning up environmentally unfriendly practices. Companies use green marketing techniques and strategies where they sell us an idea when in reality the product does not always comply with the external image we see.

Image via: Cosmic. Causewashing is the New Greenwashing

5 Greenwashing practices:

  • Hidden information versus advantages:

Many of the companies in their products highlight the advantages of using the product for the planet and the interaction with the environment. However, they do not make public the negative information or the disadvantages of having used harmful raw materials or cheap labor for production. An example of this can be technology products, which save energy, but are produced with highly polluting minerals.

  • Bald claims:

Many brands use slogans and certifications that give them a kind of approval of their environmental performance. The problem arises when, in the face of these claims, there are no verification mechanisms to corroborate that the brand actually complies with what it is assuring. This is the case of companies that claim to be free of environmental pollution, friendly to the planet, but there are no facts to prove it.

  • Inaccurate or false labeling:

Playing a little with words, companies take advantage of people who buy their brand by deceiving them. In the labeling they provide information that is altered or simply created by the brand and for the brand. On the labels or in the certificates attached to the product, information is sold with inaccurate explanations, which do not correspond or check the processes. Claims that everything is 100% green and natural.

  • Highlighting information without relevance:

One of the most used practices within greenwashing is to put importance on what does not have it. Many industries have left behind procedures or the use of chemicals that were previously included in production processes. But companies take advantage of the lack of knowledge about this, bringing up within their products the non-use or purity of the process, which had been so for many years before.

An example of this in aerosols, naming as important the non-use of CFCs, when they are banned. Or that a company says that we do not pollute the river water with our products when it is their legal obligation.

  • Convincing and highlighting the lesser evils:

With persuasion strategies, we manage to divert attention from the problems of pollution and environmental abuses. Assuring, for example, that biodegradable products are not polluting, only covers part of the problem. For the fact of the chain of consumption of purchase for one-time use is not questioned, the conscience of conservation and reuse is left aside. And in the worst cases, the policies and norms that regulate the use of the environment are not complied with.

In the face of greenwashing, it is important to take the time to corroborate the information that companies are giving us. Doubting what they promise in their certificates and labels, will make us inquire more, to raise awareness of these bad practices of which large companies with global participation take advantage.

Most known examples of greenwashing:


Some fast food companies use green marketing strategies to be seen as a brand committed to the environment. This was the case of McDonalds, which in 2010 changed its original color from red to green to create a green brand image. This contrasts the fact that today it continues to buy products (meat and soy) that feed the destruction of the Amazon in Brazil.


In 2019, the Nestlé company received a complaint alleging that coffee beans are not sustainable, that the production of the company's multitude of products contribute to the large deforestation that is taking place in West Africa and even that some products such as cocoa originate from farms where child labor is the order of the day.

We also find advertisements with vague vocabulary such as the example we see on the right of this text:

In it we can see how the background color green is used to give the perception of sustainability and that this bottle is an environmentally friendly element. Below the bottle we find the phrase "The eco-shape bottle with 15% less plastic". We, and many others, wonder what eco-forma means and that the bottle is produced with 15% less plastic if it is still made entirely of plastic.


Volkswagen admitted to manipulating 11 million of its own "clean diesel" cars with devices designed to cheat on emissions. Several automakers have faced similar allegations in recent years, including BMW, Chevrolet, Ford and Mercedes-Benz.

This practice has become noticeably more widespread in recent years. According to a 2010 report by TerraChoice, 95% of "green" products on

the market include at least one false or questionable claim.


The famous beverage company, in order to capture the eco-audience, launched a product substituting sugar for stevia, selling it in green bottles, and in which the advertisement is accompanied by natural elements that gave the brand a more eco-friendly image.

The truth behind this eco-friendly image is that, in its annual audit, Break Free From Plastic ranked Coca-Cola as the world's No. 1 plastic polluter, after its beverage bottles were the most frequently found on beaches, rivers, parks and other litter sites in 51 of the 55 countries surveyed.

How to avoid greenwashing?

To avoid greenwashing, the first step is to identify it. How? Here are some tips:

- Don't trust green packaging or green logos.

- Beware of those products that lightly use words like "sustainable", "ecological", "green" or "natural". They do not always correspond to reality.

- Pay attention to the composition of the products: read the labels of the products so as not to fall into the abundance of statements such as "sugar-free" or "fat-free" as they usually aim to distract the consumer from the rest of the composition of the product.

- Avoid ingredients such as: parabens, silicones, polyethylene glycol (PEG), aluminum, lead, ammonia, etc., especially in cosmetics.

- Beware of false eco-labels: some brands claim to be environmentally friendly, but these labels have no legal value as they are created by the company itself. (Read our post on labeling).

You already have all the necessary knowledge to avoid falling into the nets of greenwashing.

It is necessary to educate the population in the critical look of a product that claims to be ecological and good for the environment because as we have seen, many brands take advantage of the general ignorance.

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