June 9th, 2021
‘Recyclable, eco-friendly, sustainable, green, helping to save the planet’; these are just some of the words and phrases that we are seeing more and more brands splash across packaging and advertising, but it does make you question how much of it is actually true or how much of it is ‘greenwashing’?!
Greenwashing was a term coined back in the 1980’s by environmentalist Jay Westervelt, to describe misleading and false corporate environmental claims. The idea came after a visit to a resort in Fiji where they had notes asking customers to pick up and reuse their towels as “oceans and reefs are an important resource, and reusing the towels would reduce ecological damage”. An ironic note considering that the resort was expanding at the time, so contributing to the destruction and damage to oceans.
Now, 40 years later, sadly the term is still in use and is even in the Cambridge Dictionary where it says greenwashing is designed “to make people believe that your company is doing more to protect the environment than it really is.”
One of the best examples of greenwashing that we will have all been exposed to is bottled water brands. When you think of their packaging, you think of beautiful mountains, serene beaches and crystal clear waters; quite possibly the most ironic images that could have been chosen considering how much single use plastic, which the bottles are a part of, are covering our beaches and filling up our oceans.
Yes, water is better for us than other soft drinks and yes lots of companies are now claiming to use recycled plastics to make their bottles, but it doesn’t take away from some of the terrifying facts that we are seeing. 91% of plastic produced globally is NOT recycled and by 2050 it has been said that there will be more plastic than fish in our oceans. With stats as shocking as that, it makes you wonder why single use plastic water brands are even still a thing?
Another major example of greenwashing is within the fashion industry, with many of the highstreet giants bringing out ‘eco’ and ‘conscious’ collections. Yes this is all well and good, and without a doubt a step in the right direction, however, this is just one small collection compared to the copious amounts of clothing that they produce that hasn’t been made ethically. One eco collection does not take away from the irreversible damage to the planet the rest of the clothing makes and the terrible working conditions that they are made in.
So, why is it so important to make sure that you are not greenwashing?
As a brand, it’s important to understand that your consumers are becoming more aware of their impact on the planet and they are wanting to make changes and take action to help create a brighter future. One way of them doing this is through buying from and supporting brands that have the same beliefs and are trying to make the same changes. According to Nielsen’s Global Corporate Sustainability Report, 66% of consumers would spend more on a product if it comes from a sustainable brand, and that figure jumps to 73% among millennials. With figures like this, it’s easy to see why as a brand you would want to appeal to these consumers and get caught up in greenwashing – sustainability sells, however consumers are recognising more and more when greenwashing is in play.
Whilst some greenwashing may be unintentional, it is still ultimately misleading consumers who want to buy goods and services from environmentally conscious brands. This in itself has an even bigger impact as consumers are unknowingly investing in brands that are not making an environmental difference. In turn, environmental problems will most likely stay the same or get even worse. By brands greenwashing they take away and misdirect valuable investment in the fight against environmental issues from actual honest, green companies.
Environmental efforts from any brand should be about you as a company truly believing in wanting to make those changes and delivering them wholeheartedly for both your brand, your employees, your customers and of course, for the planet. You can’t just say you are green, you have to prove it.
With this in mind, we have put together a list of a few points to help your brand avoid greenwashing:
- Avoid fluffy language with no clear meaning and no detail, e.g. eco-friendly, natural.
- Look into your brand and what you’re offering as a whole. Don’t just offer one token ‘green’ product as you could still be doing more harm than good to the planet because of your other products or services. The perfect example of this is a car manufacturer that makes one type of electric car alongside many petrol models. Instead, invest in trying to be green across the entire company and all your products or services.
- The proof is in the pudding! Ensure you have the correct information and stats to back up and validate what you are saying and claiming. If you have no ‘green’ credentials, don’t make things up.
- Avoid using any misleading imagery that may suggest something is green when it actually isn’t – think plastic carrier bags with green leaves or a plastic bottle with mountain imagery. Sure it looks nice but this could lure your customer into a false green pretence.
- Do not divert attention with irrelevant claims that emphasise one tiny ‘green’ attribute when everything else is ‘anti-green’. Some examples of this is when packaging says now made with 20% less plastic – why does the rest of it still use plastic? Or when it states that recycled or eco-friendly materials are used – this may only be a tiny fraction of the product that uses this, the rest of it may be made up of anti green materials. Only make statements when you can guarantee that everything is ‘green’.
Greenwashing gone wrong
Despite the fact it seems great that more and more companies are upping their game on trying to do more and better for the environment – green credentials should only be showcased if they are actually true.
Although greenwashing may have short term benefits for companies in terms of their customers’ opinion and an increase in sales, if greenwashing is uncovered it can be incredibly harmful to the integrity of a company, sometimes beyond repair. Is greenwashing really worth the risk?
Real action is more important than false promise. If your company is currently not in a position to do more for the environment, then it is better to make no claims at all, rather than deal with the detrimental repercussions of greenwashing being revealed. Environmental efforts for any brand should be about delivering responsibility for your audience, employees and the world.
Going green for good
The climate crisis is the biggest threat to our existence and we are all far too aware of the devastating state that the world and the environment is in. That’s why it’s up to brands to take responsibility, they have the power to put a stop to greenwashing.
Brands need to step up and try and not get caught up in short-term fixes for long-term issues. They need to be honest and only embark on setting goals that are meaningful when it comes to the environment. Consumers will see this dedication and only support brands that are trying to make a difference and are protecting the environment.
As one brand it may feel overwhelming to do this and feel like you are actually making a difference, but if every brand does this we will head towards a greener future.
Written by Daisy Rogers, Head of Copy and Content, Hatched.
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