The term Greenwashing has emerged as a growing concern in the contemporary era, where environmental awareness and social responsibility have become key elements in purchasing decisions.
This phenomenon, defined by the union of 'green' and 'washing', refers to the advertising strategy used by certain companies to present themselves and their products as environmentally friendly entities when, In reality, they are not. Through this article, we will explore in detail greenwashing practices, its consequences, and how both consumers and businesses can address this challenge.
The term Greenwashing was coined by researcher Jay Westevel in 1986, who identified deceptive advertising practices used by hotels in campaigns that appeared to promote saving towel use, but were actually driven by advertising and economic interests rather than ecological concerns. Since then, greenwashing has evolved into a more sophisticated strategy, taking advantage of the growing demand for environmentally conscious products and companies.
Greenwashing is defined as the practice of orienting an organization's marketing image toward ecological positioning, while the company's actual actions go against the environment. This strategy involves not only abusive but also misleading communication, which seeks to confuse consumers about the company's environmental practices. To identify these practices, TerraChoice proposed the "7 Sins of Greenwashing":
Sin of Occult Exchange:It involves claiming that a product is "green" based on limited attributes without considering other important environmental issues. For example, paper is not automatically preferable just because it comes from a sustainably harvested forest; Other factors such as greenhouse emissions are also crucial.
Sin of Lack of Evidence: Refers to environmental claims that lack verifiable support or certifications from trusted third parties. Examples include products claiming to have a percentage of recycled content without providing evidence.
Sin of Imprecision: Refers to ill-defined or broad statements that may be misinterpreted by consumers. For example, the "All Natural" label can be misleading, as it does not guarantee that a product is environmentally friendly.
Sin of Worshipping False Labels: This implies products that give the impression of being approved by third parties through words or images, when in reality they do not have that approval.
Sin of Irrelevance:Refers to environmental claims that are true but not important or useful to consumers. A common example is the claim "CFC Free", which, although true, may be irrelevant since CFCs are banned by law in many countries.
Sin of the Lesser of Evils: It involves claims that may be true within the product category, but that distract consumers from the larger environmental impacts of the category as a whole.
Sin of Lying: Refers to environmental claims that are simply false, such as products that falsely claim to be "Energy Star" certified when they are not.
One of the most notable examples of Greenwashing is the case of McDonald's, which in 2010 changed its characteristic red colour to green to create an ecological brand image. However, behind this facade, the company continued purchasing products that contributed to the destruction of the Amazon in Brazil, evidencing a clear disconnect between its image and its real practices.
The energy sector has also been affected, with companies declaring themselves "green" or offering "green tariffs" while continuing to invest in fossil or nuclear energy. The list of 100% renewable electricity companies provided highlights those that are truly committed to sustainable practices.
Consequences of Greenwashing:
The consequences of greenwashing are significant for both businesses and consumers. On the one hand, companies that seek to present themselves as more environmentally friendly can generate distrust in consumers, undermining their competitive advantage. On the other hand, consumers face challenges in distinguishing between genuinely sustainable products and those that simply pretend to be so.
Recognizing greenwashing can be challenging, but there are clear signs, such as lack of evidence, hidden information, inaccuracies, use of false labels, irrelevance of sustainable information, and false claims. Consumers can avoid falling into this trap by reading labels thoroughly, looking for evidence of sustainability, and not believing vague or generic claims.
Companies also have a responsibility to address greenwashing. They must provide truthful information supported by external testing and certification, use clear language and avoid vague terms, be honest in their statements, ensure that communication is consistent with their values, and be transparent about their environmental commitments.
Other Forms of "Washing": Social and Health Washing:
Greenwashing is not the only deceptive practice. There are also forms such as "Social Washing" and "Health Washing", which focus on showing social commitments or promoting products as healthy, respectively. These strategies, like greenwashing, can divert consumers' attention from genuine business practices.
In a world where sustainability is key, greenwashing represents a threat to both ethical businesses and informed consumers. Both consumers and businesses can play a crucial role in building a more sustainable and environmentally responsible future by recognizing greenwashing tactics and promoting transparency.