What is Greenwashing?
Greenwashing is when companies and institutions change their aims, products and policies to be environmentally friendly for various reasons such as to gain more customers, hence get more sales and eventually increase stock prices. This practice is also known as Green Sheen, Green PR or green marketing.
Different companies in various industries such as food, fashion or travel, use unique techniques to lure in customers depending on the type of products they sell to meet the ever increasing demand of customers for environmentally friendly goods and services. Here are 13 examples of greenwashing to mislead or deceive customers.
According to Wikipedia,
“Greenwashing, also called “green sheen”, is a form of spin in which green PR or green marketing is deceptively used to promote the perception that an organization’s products, aims or policies are environmentally friendly.”
13 Examples of Greenwashing Practices to Mislead or Deceive Customers
1. Changing the name, logo, slogan, motto
Many companies go through rebranding more than once in their life time and most have attempted to rebrand themselves as environmentally friendly. Giving the brand a new name, logo, slogan or motto invokes and incites consumers to buy the product even if it may be misleading to the actual dangerous contents it has.
By simply changing the color of the company logo from yellow or red to green can invoke the illusion of environmentally friendly products. The perceived received from the name or logo is that the product is in fact naturally produced. Images that imply a green impact like drawings of animals, plants, flowers or water can evoke the customer to purchase these products.
2. Perception of legitimacy
This entails focusing on the narrow set of attributes without paying attention to the larger environmental effects. It involves over exaggerating the benefits of a product by only focusing on the small percentage of benefits it has on the environment while ignoring the larger harmful impacts it has in the environment.
It can also involve making an irrelevant and insignificant claim about the product that may be true but it is also not helpful or important in the larger role the product claims to play in conserving the environment. Some companies stoop to the level of making claims that are just completely false and that goes against very many ethical boundaries.
This is the creation of a new look and feel for an already existing and established product or company to influence a customer’s perception about the product, a service delivered or even the company in overall. This makes the company look and seem more relevant to the customer’s needs to ‘go green’.
It helps hide the unpleasant facts about the true nature of the company’s products. Rebranding involves a lot of activities that bring attention to the product, making it trend with the consumers, but the effectiveness of this technique does not last long, only until the buzz shifts to a newer and ‘more green’ product.
4. Consumption figures
Companies underestimate the amount of natural resources used. For example, during the manufacture of an automotive, manufacturers optimize on fuel consumption to decrease the cost of ownership of the vehicle and to improve their green image. Terms like energy saving are used on electrical products to encourage purchase. Stating the amount of each and every ingredients for food products is a way of swaying the customers to purchase certain products over others.
This can sometimes be true or overly exaggerated. These figures although are not provable through the shelf life of the product. They simply portray to the consumer that the products are more sustainable over time than other products. In many figures and percentages, they tell the consumer why they should buy the product.
5. Distracting consumers
This is done by diverting attention from something else the company does or diverting your attention from the bigger picture. Marketers do adverts that appeal to the sensitive hearts of the consumers by making images and films that are adorable. Disclosures are written in tiny fonts and are always placed very far away from the qualified claim.
This distracts the customer from actually getting to read and understand the disclosure and its association to the qualified claim. Some consumers don’t even get to read the disclosures at all as they are always at the bottom of the packaging while the green claims are in bold type and near the labelling which distracts the consumer.
6. Differentiating company products
Making consumers choose the lesser evil from two products that are similar or slightly different but with the same impacts on the environment. This is done by highlighting the benefits of your products while shading a light on the disadvantages of rival products. Companies do this to increase purchase of their products compared to that of their competitors while deceiving the innocent consumer who ends up buying the product that does not have any benefit at all.
This practice can also be done by increasing the prices of consumables to attract customers with claims of being cost-effective because of how the ingredients are naturally acquired, therefore, making the product more expensive while they consist of the same components as that of their competitors.
7. Display of complex data
Markets use information and technical terms that the average consumer does not understand in their adverts and product labelling. Interestingly, they make it sounds eco-friendly and accentuates the company’s commitment to the environment.
The manufacturers make some information about the product very complex that the consumer fails to get the exact contribution to the environment a product makes and, as such, relies on the fact that the product is termed to be eco-friendly. This makes it difficult for the consumer to look up and verify the information.
8. Make claims that can’t be proven
This is done by making green claims that are vague and ambiguous. One can almost always not trace the source of their information and, therefore, one cannot sufficiently identify the exact benefits to the environment the product has.
When little to no information is available, consumers only have to contend with the claims the advert is making about the benefits of the products to the environment. In the majority of cases, the information can’t be verified scientifically but the marketers spin it to look legitimate and knowledgeable while it conveys a whole bunch of nothing.
9. Favored partnerships
Claims that the product is endorsed or vetted by reliable companies help boost company sales. Partnership and relationship strategies with non-profit organizations that are at the forefront of protecting the environment, give a company an advantage over the other competitors as it invokes trust from the consumers that the products are legit.
Logos and certifications from government agencies provides the illusion of oversight from the authorities thus proving legitimacy. This, however, is just strategic movements made by the corporate players in the company to cover up the actions and damaging activities that they are doing behind closed doors while improving the corporate reputation and brand image.
10. Green projects
A good example is an oil company conducting an ocean clean-up project to protect the environment after an oil spill. These initiatives are normally taken up by companies after they have been given directives by the government after committing an environmental offense. It usually gives the company an illusion of compliance while, in real sense, it is the opposite of the case as they are just covering up the acts of environmental degradation previously done.
Furthermore, they often place emphasis on the ecological projects rather than the existence of the projects themselves. Companies also at times make substantial donations to environmental projects to appear socially responsible and also have a good reputation.
11. Feedback loops
This is done by using the feedback of the consumers to create the desired image. It encompasses using customer feedback by companies through surveys and focus groups, of what they feel and deem fit to be placed in the category of green products. The information is then used in advertisements to satisfy the consumer’s needs, increasing the rate of purchase. Fascinatingly, the advertisers do not usually air out negative feedback.
12. Production process
The materials and manufacturing technology used to make the products are overly exaggerated to be those that conserve natural resources, energy and the environment. Companies claim they use green solutions during the process of manufacturing or when they operate their businesses.
Eventually, this will produce products that have been examined for any environmental impacts during every step of the production process including the input of raw materials.
13. Pressing issues
It involves making a connection between the products and pressing issues that are affecting the world right now. These are issues that are on the spotlight like climate change and species extinction.
For example, an ad for a plastic bottled water claims that if you buy their product, you are assisting them in preserving water or protecting an endangered species although the water is packaged in plastic that if disposed wrongly, it will impact the environment significantly.