How to tell which brands are sharing the eco-love this valentines?
Greenwashing is a term that was coined by Jay Westervel in 1986. It describes marketing strategies used to make companies seem more environmentally friendly than they actually are or to cover up their questionable environmental record.
These days, the consumer decisions of younger and often more skeptical consumers are increasingly influenced by a company’s environmental commitments. Studies have shown that 72% of millennials are willing to pay more for products that are more ‘eco friendly’. This shift in consumer behaviour has meant that businesses are now being held accountable for the effects that their actions are having on the environment.
Although many companies have adopted genuine change since the emergence of environmentalism, some companies have taken a rather different route, releasing advertisements that are designed to mislead their audience and convince them that their product is greener than it really is.
Rather than spend money on real impactful change, companies often spend money on marketing campaigns designed to distract consumers from problematic and unsustainable business models. This means that unsustainable businesses can sometimes benefit from the money of environmentally conscious consumers, whilst in reality, doing very little for the planet.
In 2010, TerraChoice investigated 4,744 ‘green’ products in the US and Canada. They found that 95% of these products were guilty of greenwashing in some way. They used this information to create a framework called the Seven Sins of Greenwashing. This outlines seven ways in which businesses mislead their consumers and falsely promote their product as being ‘green’.
We thought we would share these sins with you so that you can be sure that your money really is supporting businesses who truly care about our planet.
Hidden Trade Off
Labeling a product as environmentally friendly by using a small set of attributes whilst ignoring the bigger impact of the product as a whole. For example: a company might claim that they are environmentally friendly because they have new recyclable packaging, however the production of this packaging may actually require more energy or more plastic and the rate at which that plastic actually gets recycled may be very low.
This speaks for itself. The product may make claims without making proof easily accessible to the consumer. Look on the product label for legitimate certification from environmental and health agencies.
Companies may use vague language, implying that a product is green without stating in clear terms. The use of terms such as ‘natural’ for example. Just because something is ‘all natural’ it does not mean that it cannot harm the environment. The term ‘natural’ is a fairly regulated term. It could mean that nothing artificial was added. It could mean that the cardboard box it came in comes from a tree therefore it is technically a natural product. It could simply mean that the plastic bottle it comes in has a drawing of a flower on it. Watch out for vague language like this. Examples include ‘bio’ ‘eco’ ‘green’ ‘good for the planet’ ‘good for your health’ ‘organic’.
Stating something which is technically true but which is no longer relevant. Some products claim to be CFC free, which is true, however products containing CFC are already banned in the UK and so this should not be used as a distinguishing factor. Using irrelevant information makes the audience believe that a company cares about the environment, when really they are doing the bare minimum required by law.
Lesser of Two Evils
The company claims that its product is more sustainable than its competitors when both are in an unsustainable market. It’s no good one oil company pointing to another and saying “we aren’t as bad as this guy. Last year they accidently spilled 84 gallons of oil into the sea. We only spilled 24 gallons ” At the end of the day both are bad and so the lesser of two evils argument really isn’t valid.
Stating something that simply isn’t true. Claiming to have been recognised by an environmental organisation when they haven’t been or just plain lying about their ingredients or materials.
Worshipping false labels
Claiming that their product has third party endorsement from an organisation that actually doesn’t exist. Certification may make the product seem more eco-friendly, however sometimes these badges have been created by the company themselves to make them seem like they have the approval of an environmental organisation.
These are the seven sins of greenwashing. Figuring out whether a company’s claims are genuine can take a lot of time, especially seen as companies are getting better and better at creating convincing and often misleading marketing campaigns. The chances are that you will have fallen for at least some of these tricks and you probably will fall for them again! The important thing is to look at things with a critical eye and do a little research wherever possible to ensure that your intentions truly are having a positive impact.
As always, at the Green Team we recognise that not everyone has the time or the means to make these choices on their weekly shop. One way that everyone can help to spread the word about greenwashing is simply by sharing the information and talking with your friends and family. There are also petitions concerning Greenwashing where you can make your voice heard.