Everything You Wanted to Know about Greenwashing in Marketing

20 April 2023
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The practice of selling green products that are not eco-friendly is a straight-up lie. Yet, this is common nowadays, because eco-products tend to be more expensive. In this article, you will learn more about greenwashing, its consequences, and how to detect one. Moreover, we will explain what can be done to actually save the ecology if you truly care, and why it is a tremendous effort to be made.

Greenwashing and ecology

Greenwashing is about talking more about environment protection than doing anything for it. Since going green is the mainstream this day, many companies try to win over customers by making unwarranted claims about their dedication to sustainable development, hoping to get away with the deception. Here are a couple of examples, based on the industry.

  • Hospitality: Beachcomber Resort which saved on the cost of new towels; This is the birthplace of the “greenwash” term, which was coined in 1986
  • Fashion: H&M which made a bogus scorecard system about the eco-friendliness
  • Energy: British Petroleum, one of the largest oil producers in the world, hypocritically informs the customers about their carbon emissions.
  • Forestry: Weyerhaeuser which takes the salmon depopulation problem “seriously” but refuses the pleas to leave tree buffers that help the fish

Everything You Wanted to Know about Greenwashing in Marketing

As long as sustainability reports are not treated as seriously as financial accounting, there will always be room for fraud and deception. If you truly care about ecology, then there is only one way to save the planet, and that is to invest in emission-free technologies.

According to Konstantin Kisin, a presenter in Oxford Union, developing economies of China and LATAM make up for the largest of carbon emissions. Due to the poverty and malnutrition, these regions couldn’t care less about the ecology. By solving their pressing problems, environmental beauty can be preserved and enhanced.

Seven sins of greenwashing

Everything You Wanted to Know about Greenwashing in Marketing

Let’s get back to our topic at hand. If you want to detect whether you are being deceived, look for these 7 red flags:

  • Concealed trade-off: tunnel vision at its best when the product is proclaimed to be “green” based on a very narrow set of attributes, e.g., paper, which emits greenhouse gases during production.
  • Absence of proof: a claim that has no accessible third-party verifications. Are you sure the paper towels are recycled after being used?
  • Vagueness and generalities: a claim with little to no details that will most likely lead to ambiguity. Saying the product is all-natural does not automatically exclude the Mendeleev’s table from its contents.
  • Counterfeited proofs: creating a sense of third-party endorsement is a blatant lie; the community of digital marketers for a greener future approves.
  • Irrelevance and misattribution: leaded gasoline for cars is forbidden by the law, so there is no point in claiming that someone’s gas is lead-free.
  • Lesser devil: sometimes the product can be the best of a bad batch, e.g., organic cigarettes or eco-friendly motor.
  • Straight-up fibbing: not all the products with ENERGY STAR® certification are certified by the official representatives.

As a customer, you want to know these sins, so no one can cloud your judgement with false claims. However, producers and marketer can also benefit from this information, so they are aware when they commence crossing the line.

Risks, remedies, and future

When greenwashing goes to its extreme, it becomes greenscamming, when environment-threatening organizations mimic environmentalists, e.g., the benefactors of the National Wetlands Coalition. Greenwashing is a gamble that can cost a fortune in fines, time and resources wasted on fixes, and the brand’s goodwill lost on top of it all.

How to avoid the label of greenwashing? Either refrain from making boastful claims, while under the impact of mainstream discourse; or start actually doing something for sustainable development and planet-saving — actions speak louder than words do.

Everything You Wanted to Know about Greenwashing in Marketing

Every environmental claim ought to be transparent and truthful. Besides addressing the aforementioned 7 sins of greenwashing, the companies can implement the so-called life-cycle assessment methodology, which is about estimating the environmental impact throughout the whole cycle of a product making.

Greenwashing will prevail as long as profit can be made from it. Similar to alcohol prohibition in the 30s, penalizing the practice is not a solution. From the economical perspective, the problem of nature is that it is a common good — everybody can use it for free. But every good has a tendency to depreciate, which is why even vast nature requires maintenance and repair. Who will do this?

No business will be fine to invest in nature because what’s the profit? Since it is a common good, then there is no exclusive access to the resource. Investing into it is akin to supporting communism. Therefore, either the ecology must be made profitable (no idea how) or the governments have to start to research nature-friendly technologies that can be implemented worldwide as a consequence. But this leads to another problem — bureaucracy…

Anyway, protests against pollution, screaming out how bad one’s condition is, or even destruction of the cultural artifacts are not the best solution. People must act honorably and look for the actual solutions, like groundbreaking technologies, to make the Earth a better place.

Conclusion

Unfortunately, eco-friendliness is not the highest priority of business, for the main goal of any enterprise is to make a profit. Once investing in nature becomes profitable, everything will turn green overnight.

The lofty ideas of people, however, give rise to deception and fraud, when companies like H&M and VW deceive their customers into thinking they are making a green impact. But at least you are able to detect the greenwashing after reading the article. The ultimate question you should ask yourself, what’s the benefit? If no reasonable answer pops up in your mind, then something is off.

Greenwashing can turn into a green agenda, but only when the brands and marketers start to act in an environmentally friendly way. That’s not going to happen as long as the profit can’t be made. Fortunately, though, the idea of profit is not limited to cash only and can expand to goodwill, loyalty, and preferences. People can influence all these things with their wallets: if they truly believe in ecology, then they will turn their attention to eco-friendly products, which are more expensive at the moment and are not always actually eco.

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