Types and Examples of Greenwashing


Meaning of Greenwashing

Greenwashing is a marketing strategy adopted by companies for conveying wrong or misleading information regarding their products to be environmentally sound. It is simply an unsubstantiated attempt which company uses for deceiving clients into believing that its goods are fully eco-friendly i.e., made from recyclable materials and carry energy-efficient benefits. Companies basically exaggerate their claims via greenwashing to trick people into buying their products. Nowadays the demand for environmentally sound products is increasing day by day, therefore companies deploy greenwashing strategies in order to capitalize on this growing demand. Greenwashing is termed as a dirty business practice meant for covering up scandalous information via the biased presentation of facts. 

Companies while using greenwashing spend a large amount of money and time on marketing activities for building their image, instead of spending the same time and money on shifting to sustainable business practices. The greenwashing activities are regulated by a government agency named-Federal Trade Commission (FTC). FTC protects customers against unethical business practices and regulates the marketing claims of companies via issuing guidelines. These guidelines are called Green Guides whose main purpose is to guide companies on their environmental marketing principles. FTC also takes strict actions against companies if they are found in misleading their customers.

Types of Greenwashing

Various types of greenwashing are as discussed in the points given below: – 

  1. Clickbait: Clickbait greenwashing is a straight-up fraud which is fully composed of lies and misleads. Under this, the company uses false information in their advertising message and labels. Companies label their products as organic, recyclable, certified, 100% recyclable but in reality, they are not. False phrases and words are used for click-baiting customers into buying products. Companies in terms of misleading may even go to the extent of making their own certifications and self-declaring themselves as sustainable business.
  2. Environmental Imagery: Environmental imagery is a type of greenwashing where companies use images of nature, leaves, animals or green color in labels and packaging of their products. These images are meant for conveying green message thereby providing customers a feeling of eco-friendly product. However, in reality simpler images and plain packaging is used by genuine eco-friendly products. This greenwashing is also called as green marketing. 
  3. The Red Herring: Red herring is most frustrating type of greenwashing used by companies to showcase their product as eco-friendly. A small component of product is in reality eco-friendly, while main product remains destructive to environment. The companies utilize that small eco-friendly component in capitalizing the complete product. Suppose a product itself can be considered as eco-friendly, like for instance a reusable or compostable water bottle. However, the whole process involved in making such product is very environmental destructive. Another scenario of such greenwashing is where company just use eco-friendly packaging for product but the product itself is not sustainable. The use of environment friendly packaging such as recyclable cardboard, is used for capitalizing by company and taking away the fact that product itself is not eco-friendly.
  1. Irrelevant Claims: Companies uses irrelevant environmental claim for showcasing their products as sustainable ones under this type of greenwashing. Manytimes a company use labels defining that product is free of certain chemicals. But in reality, the substance might be banned by law which makes the claim of going green fully invalid.  The chemical is just one example, but there can be many other cases as well like packaging claim, animal testing claim and ingredients claim. All these claims sound good when put on label but are just invalid as same claim could be used by all products. For example, CFC’s have harmful effects on ozone due to which they were outlawed. So, if a product claims itself to be CFC free is totally greenwashing.   
  1. Vagueness: Under this category of greenwashing, the company uses terminology ‘green’ for making their product sounds good in market. The words used are vague which does not have any direct link with product. Most clear instance of this greenwashing is use of words ‘environment friendly’, ‘non-toxic’, ‘sustainable’, ‘bio gradable’ and ‘eco-friendly’. It is totally vague as there are lot of factors which need to be considered for categorizing the product as eco-friendly. Such labels need to be verified that how a product is environment friendly.  
  2. No Receipts: No receipt greenwashing involve companies putting fake claims on their labels and advertisement carrying no proof at all. It is quite similar to clickbait type of greenwashing. The claims which are included in labels and advertisement can’t be verified and when asked from companies, they will also not verify it. They may be trying anything just to cover such claims even ending up saying that nothing can be shared due to trade secrets. Companies will do fraud by making their own certification program in order to use a certified label on their products. 
  3. Bait and switch: Bait and switch form of greenwashing is one where companies just create small eco-friendly product for drawing the customer attention. Post of initial bait, rest of product line are shown to customers which is totally composed of non-environment friendly products. Also, the single eco-friendly product is put at higher prices for making customers shift to non-eco-friendly ones. 

Sins of Greenwashing

There are commonly seven sins of greenwashing which are listed below: – 

  1. Sin of the Hidden Trade-off: Hidden trade off sin involves company classifying its product as eco-friendly on the basis of small attributes while not considering other attributes that might have key environmental issues. Like suppose, a product is made by using recyclable materials and looks sustainable if its production process is not considered. In its production, there might be high level of energy utilized, large pollution created as well as toxic chemicals also used.
  2. Sin of No proof: Sin of no proof means company provides non-substantiated environmental claim without any easily available supporting document or evidence. For example, a tissue company make claims that post-consumer recycled content is used in their product manufacturing but does not provide any evidence to support it.
  3. Sin of worshipping False labels: A company may use fake labels consisting of certificates, images, badges and awards which all in reality are nothing. They may even award themselves by self-created certifications or endorsements which is not backed by any authority.
  4. Sin of irrelevance: Sin of irrelevance means an environmental claim made by company which is technically true but not a distinguishing factor to be considered when making decision for eco-friendly products. CFC free claim is most common example used under this type. CFC is banned by law which makes this claim an unremarkable.    
  5. Sin of fibbing: Sin of fibbing involve companies making environmental claims which are straight up lies and are totally untrue. Most relevant example of this is products claiming themselves to be ENERGY STAR certified which in reality they are not. 
  6. Sin of lesser of 2 evils: It means claiming yourself to be greener than other similar category product but in reality, whole category might be environmental harmful. Fuel efficient vehicles or organic cigarettes both are examples of this.
  7. Sin of Vagueness: Sin of vagueness involves making an environmental claim which is not properly defined or whose broad meaning is more likely to be misunderstood by customers. All natural is example of this where mercury, uranium and arsenic are all naturally occurring but still are poisonous.  

Example of Greenwashing

Given below are 2 common examples of greenwashing where companies just employed green marketing strategies for raising their sales level but in a true sense were not environmentally friendly.

  1. Volkswagen’s Clean Diesel- An ad campaign was released by leading car manufacturer- Volkswagen to disprove the fact that diesel is bad. The company made claim that it has employed a technology in its engines where they will emit fewer pollutants in air. Later on, truth was revealed where it was found that company manipulated its 11 million diesel cars with defeat devices or technology made for cheating the emission tests. The vehicle in reality emits pollutant 40 times the U.S. permissible limit.Volkswagen was fined of $14.7 billion by federal agencies for using deceptive advertising and cheating emission tests.
  1. EasyJet Less CO2- An airplane company- EasyJet made a claim in nationwide press advertisement in 2008 that its planes emit 22% less C02 than other planes on same route. Later on, Advertisement standards agency debunk this claim as it was not made clear by company how its planes emit less emissions. Whether the company reduces C02 emission on per passenger basis or it was able to reduce emissions simply on the basis that EasyJet planes in comparison to traditional airlines could carry more passengers.