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, and 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 15+ examples of greenwashing to mislead or deceive customers.

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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.

15+ 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 lifetime, 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 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 on 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.

3. Rebranding

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 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. Still, 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 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 ingredient for food products is a way of swaying the customers to purchase certain products over others.

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This can sometimes be true or overly exaggerated. These figures, though, 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 labeling, 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 shedding light on the disadvantages of rival products. Companies do this to increase the 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 the information and technical terms that the average consumer does not understand in their adverts and product labeling. 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 provide 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.

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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 a 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 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 techniques 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 in the spotlight like climate change and species extinction.

For example, an ad for 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 of wrongly, will impact the environment significantly.

14. Claim Greenwashing

The majority of research to date has focused on product/service-level claim greenwashing, which uses textual arguments that explicitly or implicitly refer to the ecological benefits of a product or service to create a misleading environmental claim.

15. Greenwashing as decoupling

Greenwashing to a decoupling behavior relates greenwashing with symbolic actions, “which tend to deflect attention to minor issues or lead to create ‘green talk’ through statements aimed at satisfying stakeholder requirements in terms of sustainability but without any concrete action”.

16. Greenwashing Ads with Verbal and Image-Based Claims

Green advertising often applies affect-laden images of pleasant natural scenery along with verbal appeals to communicate a product’s ecological attributes. However, images of pleasant natural scenery can also be misused in green advertising to induce false perceptions of a brand’s greenness without referring to the actual environmental features of advertised products in what is known as executional greenwashing.

Recent research indicates that the mere presence of a nature-evoking picture in advertising positively affects consumers’ perceptions of the advertised brand’s ecological image, which in turn prompts more favorable attitudes toward the brand than attitudes prompted by the same advertising without the imagery of nature.

In a study, TerraChoice investigated the claims of 4,744 “green” products carried in stores across the U.S. and Canada, finding that more than 95 percent of these products were guilty of at least one of what they call 7 Sins.

  • The sin of the hidden trade-off: A claim suggesting that a product is ‘green’ based on a narrow set of attributes without attention to other important environmental issues. Shampoo, for example, is not necessarily environmentally-preferable just because it comes from organic material, as shown on the bottle. Other important environmental issues in shampoo manufacturing, such as chemical ingredients and other contents which is not disclosed, may be harmful to the environment and consumer.
  • The sin of no proof: An environmental claim that cannot be substantiated by easily accessible supporting information or by a reliable third-party certification. Common examples are facial tissues or toilet tissue products that claim various percentages of post-consumer recycled content without providing evidence.
  • The sin of vagueness: A claim that is poorly defined or too broad, that its real meaning is likely to be misunderstood by the consumer. ‘All-natural’ is an example of this sin. Arsenic, uranium, mercury, and formaldehyde are all naturally occurring and poisonous. ‘All natural’ isn’t necessarily ‘green’. Other examples are “Non-toxic” because everything is toxic in certain dosages; “Green”, “Environmentally friendly”, “Eco-friendly”, and “Eco-conscious” are also vague because, without elaboration, they are meaningless.
  • The sin of worshipping false labels: A product that, through a false suggestion or certification-like image (fake labels), misleads consumers into thinking that it has been through a legitimate green certification process. An example is a paper towel whose packaging has a certification-like image that makes a claim that the product “fights global warming”.
  • The sin of irrelevance: An environmental claim that may be truthful but is unimportant or unhelpful for consumers seeking environmentally preferable products. ‘CFC-free’ is a common claim, since it is a frequent claim despite the fact that CFCs are banned by law.
  • The sin of lesser of two evils: A claim that may be true within the product category, but those risks distracting the consumer from the greater environmental impacts of the category as a whole. Organic cigarettes could be an example of this Sin, as might the fuel-efficient sport-utility vehicle.
  • The sin of fibbing: Environmental claims that are simply false. The most common examples were products falsely claiming to be Energy Star certified or registered. Scanlan conducted research in the oil gas industry (OGI) communication on hydraulic fracking and proposed new sins related to the conceptualization of greenwashing.
  • The sin of false hopes: A claim that reinforces a false hope. The OGI hydraulic fracking method has an enormous negative impact on the environment; critics argue that ecological modernization is not possible and believing otherwise is harmful to the environment.
  • The sin of fearmongering: Claims that fabricate insecurity related to not “buying in” on an organization practice, like OGI hydraulic fracking. This can be explained as “shifting the scale of fear and seizing opportunities from instability and uncertainty borne out of wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, the global war on terror, and volatile fuel costs, alter the public perception of risk”.
  • The sin of broken promises: Claims promising that fracking will lift up poor, rural communities with riches from mineral rights and economic development, but when evidence shows the contrary, communities are left with irreversible impacts.
  • The sin of injustice: According to Scanlan, the environmental communication examined in his research does not speak directly to communities most affected by fracking; it focuses on a segment of the population that benefits from fracking but does not suffer its consequences.
  • The sin of hazardous consequences: Greenwashing hides the reality of inequality and distracts the public from the dangers of risk other experience; Scanlan includes another sin in reference to the harm done from hazardous consequences.
  • The sin of profits over people and the environment: To profit over people and the environment is what describes as potentially the greatest greenwashing sin of all.
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About Rinkesh

A true environmentalist by heart ❤️. Founded Conserve Energy Future with the sole motto of providing helpful information related to our rapidly depleting environment. Unless you strongly believe in Elon Musk‘s idea of making Mars as another habitable planet, do remember that there really is no 'Planet B' in this whole universe.