As the climate is changing, greenwashing is rising. Demands from laws, NGOs and customer trends are pressuring companies to label themselves as ‘eco’ or ‘sustainable’. However, these claims are sometimes unfounded and it is important to learn how to recognise cases of greenwashing, so that you can avoid them.
What is Greenwashing?
Greenwashing is described as ‘the act of providing the public or investors with misleading our outright false information about the environmental impact of a company’s products and operations’ – Investopedia. Companies across the world use it as a marketing tool to convey a sustainable identity.
Being able to spot cases of greenwashing is important for a variety of reasons. Firstly, you need to protect yourself as a consumer from deception. Companies are able to charge a premium by labelling themselves with a green identity, regardless of the reliability of such labels. Secondly, it is also important to protect companies which are trying to achieve genuine positive environmental impact from being overshadowed by larger corporations with powerful advertising campaigns. When large companies exploit having a green identity as a marketing tool, they damage the reputation and credibility of other truly sustainable initiatives. In this way, greenwashing can be a significant barrier to affective environmental action.
5 Ways of Spotting Greenwashing.
It’s not always easy to spot greenwashing – companies never want to overtly reveal their dishonesty. So to help protect yourself, honest businesses and environmental initiatives everywhere, here are some simple ways of identifying green washing.
Big statements or statistics are a powerful persuasion tool. But they’re also easy ones to manipulate. For example, a service that claims to have doubled its use of renewable energy sounds great! In reality, it’s only gone from 0.5 % to 1%.
2. NO PROOF
It’s easy for a company to claim that it has invested money into green ideas, but it’s also easy for them not to present any evidence of their results. Similarly, a business may declare itself to be carbon neutral, but they might not provide their carbon footprint reports or enable easy access to them.
3. UNSPECIFIC CLAIMS
Specifying exactly what a label means is important. Failing to clarify which parts are actually recyclable or made from recycled materials is an easy way to greenwash. If a service isn’t explicitly clear about exactly what they mean mean, they could be hiding something. For example, if it doesn’t say exactly how you can recycle it, then chances are, you can’t
4. AMBIGUOUS TERMS
The word ‘sustainable’ is often used. But defining exactly what is actually being sustained is less common. Does buying this product ensure the future of the company, or of the planet?
5. MISLEADING IMAGERY
Our subconscious is the target of branding and packaging. Pictures of beautiful forests, healthy wildlife, or through simply using the colour green can all subliminally communicate the word ‘eco’. But they can also serve as a distraction from a less savoury truth.
How to avoid it:
Fortunately, greenwashing isn’t going under the radar and marketing regulators are working to prevent such acts. We at Starboard make sure we never greenwash as we strive to reach our mission to lead the world for the world.
However, to make sure you are never victim to greenwashing from other companies, here are some tips to avoid it:
Certificates and verification are a great indicator of genuine environmental action. Companies must work hard to attain accreditation, because they involve strict criteria. As a result, businesses cannot simply pay for valuable recognition.
For example, certification from VERRA signifies that a company has been verified in its environmental efficiency and operational stability of its environmental technology. With this verification, you can be confident in the credibility of a company’s green claims.
At Starboard we are working towards getting verified. Find out more here.
LOOK FOR THE EVIDENCE
Openly sharing the impacts of an organization’s efforts is a clear way of proving their claims. In providing the evidence that they’re not just empty words , they prove that their actions do actually have consequences.
A company can achieve this by offering free access to information which testifies to their alleged claims. For instance, their website could provide links to details of their energy usage or publish reports of carbon calculations. In this way, it is easy for consumers to judge the credibility of a company’s eco-identity and gain their trust.
We calculate all of our carbon footprints so that we can fully offset them and become 10x climate positive. We publish the reports online and you can find them here.
If a company is honest about the challenges it faces in becoming environmentally positive, they are most likely being truthful. It is unrealistic and unbelievable to suggest that a company can easily become environmentally friendly, so if they’re open about the difficulties they’ve faced, then their proclaimed achievements are more credible.
One way in which a company can be transparent is to share it’s story or process. In sharing in detail how their product is made, you can be more confident that they are not trying to hide anything.
At Starboard we are proud of our environmental action, but we admit that there are still improvements we can make. Find out more about our journey of eco-innovation here.
Greenwashing is a serious issue. Not only is it morally wrong because it deceives consumers and overshadows truly sustainable companies, but it is also damaging to the overall effort for positive change because it gives power to those with false environmental motivations.
Thankfully, some companies do face repercussions for committing greenwashing, such as getting banned from advertising platforms. However, a number businesses remain undetected.
That is why it is essential that you enlist these tips to spot greenwashing and use your voice to call out the culprits. Post #greenwashing on social media sites to raise awareness and prevent the continuation of such false claims.
Read more about real life examples of greenwashing here.