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What is greenwashing, and how to spot it?

By Asomi College of Sciences

Nowadays, more people are concerned with the environmental crisis and the footprint they leave on our planet. The growing concern with the environment has made us more careful about what we buy. That applies to single customers and products and services between businesses. 

But, as often happens with every new tendency, some companies claim their products are environmentally friendly when they aren’t. This phenomenon is called greenwashing. This article is about greenwashinghow it works and how to recognise it.

Greenwashing: the definition.

The term greenwashing was coined in the 1980s. By referring to whitewashing – a term used for companies trying to cover up their wrongdoings – greenwashing was born out of a situation in which the hotel industry launched the towel reusing campaign. The hotels invited their clients to reuse their towels because washing fewer towels would have a smaller impact on the environment. But quite soon, it turned out that the saved water didn’t reduce the environmental impact in meaningful terms. And worse is that the hotels launched that campaign to lower laundry costs.  

Nowadays, greenwashing is widespread, mainly because consumers prefer environmentally friendly products and services, whether customers or businesses. Market research from recent years has shown that gen Z and millennials are willing to pay more for sustainable products

And let’s admit that whenever we see eco-friendly products, whether on a supermarket shelf or in a car ad, they generally cost more than average products. Even worse, most people are willing to pay more for them because they care about the environment. And that is why the latest marketing trends see a lot of companies presenting their products and services as “eco-friendly”. Besides, there would be nothing wrong if the companies were all honest and if being environmentally friendly would be left to those who respect our planet.

The green movement is positive, and we, as human beings, feel the need to do something about the future of our planet before it’s too late. And understandably, people are attracted by products and services, including the following words: eco-friendly, sustainable, and recyclable. But, the problem is that many of these products are not as green as they seem. Greenwashing is now a widespread technique to increase sales profits. That puts the final responsibility on us, and we must choose wisely

ACS What is greenwashing and how to spot it
Tips for spotting greenwashing.

But how to spot greenwashing? There are a lot of options.

Only the “good” sides: The easiest way is to have a sceptical approach. For example, if a company is underlining only good and “green” aspects of their products or services and disregarding the negative ones, it might be a sign of greenwashing.

The wording: For instance, look out for the overuse of environmentally friendly words on the products’ etiquettes. The mere use of these termswith no proof, is useless and might be an attempt to raise the producer’s sales profits. But, to have a more transparent overview, let’s look at some of the most well-known examples of greenwashing.

Official labels: Some products have an official label proving their green background. Look at the package, and if it has a mark that proves this product is sustainable, search for the label and the brand on the web.

Research: The most efficient way to spot greenwashing is to do research. Whenever you examine a product that claims to be sustainable, you should look it up on the web.

Examples of greenwashing.

For instance, let’s take the plastic bottle industry. Many of the newest etiquettes on plastic bottles claim their bottles are biodegradable and that, over time, they will break down into tiny pieces that don’t harm nature. But this happens only when the bottles are exposed to a certain amount of heat, sunlight, and humidity – basically, everything a traditional landfill lacks.

Or think about the clothing industry. As it is one of the most polluting industries in the world, some fast fashion brands have launched eco-friendly lines. Some of them used to say their clothes were made of organic cotton, and some that they were biodegradable. But it turned out that neither of these claims was true.

Or, again, some electric car brands underline the almost zero to zero pollution of their cars that do not produce carbon dioxide. Furthermore, these cars do not consider the impact and the issue with minerals and the underpaid workers working in the mines to get lithium to produce reloadable batteries for these cars.

Companies care about profit.

There are a few significant examples, but hundreds of them exist. We should focus on how to lessen our already negative impact on nature. But the companies are trying to make consumers believe that suddenly all they care about now is the environment. So we, as consumers, have to be sceptical and do our research.

ACS – ASOMI College of Sciences is engaged in eco-friendly activities, click here to read more sustainability-related articles by ACS.

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