What is Greenwashing?
You’ve Probably Heard of Greenwashing but What Does it Mean and How Do You Spot it?
It’s not a new term but it’s becoming an ever-growing problem. So it’s time we focus a lens on what greenwashing means and how you can spot it.
With sustainability and eco-conscious concerns on the rise among consumers, it’s no big secret that there are brands with less than wholesome intentions. These companies aim to capitalize on the conscious consumer market trend.
I think it’s important to note that every company claiming green initiatives doesn’t have nefarious intentions, in fact, some are amazing and making great strides towards better business practices. That being said, it is getting harder to tell the difference between a genuine sustainable company from a not so genuine one. Not only that, it hurts our planet when companies claim sustainability when they’re not.
So, let’s talk about it.
Let’s Begin with a Greenwashing Definition
The Merriam-webster Dictionary defines Greenwashing as expressions of environmentalist concerns especially as a cover for products, policies, or activities.
At its very core, greenwashing is when a company claims to be sustainable their not. They claim to have environmental initiatives when they don’t. Or they’re trying to cover up a particularly bad product, activity or policy for the environment.
Essentially, it’s a smokescreen. Greenwashing uses marketing and PR tactics that exaggerate environmental/sustainability efforts to ultimately gain more favour from consumers and investors.
The Root of The Problem
Shifting the responsibility from companies to consumers. Greenwashing is a powerful marketing tool as consumers become more and more eco-conscious. I think it’s important to remember that companies have the agency and power to make a large positive impact. Companies can make great strides towards a greener tomorrow.
So, yes it’s amazing for consumers to be educated and to care. That way they make decisions that have an impact. Especially because, the more consumers that care, the bigger the overall impact.
But, the other half of this equation is holding governments and companies accountable. We have to continue to incentivise companies into making better decisions when it comes to their environmental practices.
What Does it Mean to Greenwash?
Greenwashing has become a tactic that companies use and honestly, it’s an effective one. It’s actually in a companies best interests to greenwash and that’s why we keep seeing more of it.
Why? Because like you, me, and many consumers have concern for our planet. That concern is beginning to outweigh the need for that new pair of shoes or that big truck. So, if a company can successfully convince consumers that they make an effort to be sustainable, they can use that in their marketing and PR. This leads to converting more potential eco-conscious consumers into buying.
How to Spot Which Companies Greenwash and Which Ones Don’t
1. Look For Transparency and Detail
The oh so amazing transparency factor. It’s really hard to hide nefarious intentions when you’re being honest and open with consumers. And we see this as something consumers are demanding more of. They want to see information readily available that show the companies best practices in action.
This can come in so many different forms! A truly Eco-conscious company can share their goals and sustainable initiatives through their website, blogs, articles, social media and educational or informative videos. Businesses that are truly sustainable are going to be detailed. They’ll openly share valuable information with their consumers if they’re genuine.
2. Consider How Relevant the Companies Eco-Claims Are
Another factor that can help spot greenwashing is relevancy. A business should have sustainable initiatives that align with its industry.
Take us for example, at HOPE we’re making environmentally sustainable pet food. This means that our green initiatives align with the pet food industry. We’re using innovation and science to deliver nutritious and sustainable alternatives for pet parents. Nutrition without sacrifice.
This means our main protein source is insect protein which emits 70% fewer Greenhouse gases all while using 90% less land and freshwater than meat-based pet foods. We also make environmentally conscious decisions when it comes to our ingredients and packaging. We use Canadian ingredients and our bags are recyclable. Not to mention, we partner with a logistics company that has the largest fleet of electric delivery vehicles in Canada (pretty cool!).
We also, use science to look for better more eco-conscious ways of getting nutrient-rich food to our pets. So, our team is always researching other alternative proteins that can further our product line in the future, sustainably.
A company that’s greenwashing may over-hype environmental initiatives that don’t actually make sense for their industry.
3. Look for Vague Claims or “ The Smoke Screen” as Greenwashing
If a company is greenwashing they’re likely to use vague language and buzz words. This usually looks like “sustainable”, “green” and “eco” without any reference to relevant scientific standards.
Another thing to look out for is what I’m calling “The Smoke Screen”. This is when a company highlights one product or practise that is sustainable, or at least sustainable enough, and markets the heck out of it. They use this one sustainable line, product or practice to earn good favour with consumers, meanwhile, the rest of their business is damaging the environment.
For instance, a fashion brand that has one line made from a sustainable textile, while the rest of their clothing is made from textiles that do environmental damage like polyester or acrylics. They promote and market the one sustainable line that may make up 10% of their total products.
4. Carbon Offsetting – Not the Worst but Not Great.
Lastly, keep an eye out for companies that claim to carbon offset. This doesn’t mean that their greenwashing, but if this is the only thing they do to be environmentally conscious it’s likely a form of greenwashing.
Carbon offsetting is when a business finds a way to remove the equivalent amount of greenhouse emissions from the atmosphere that they’ve released into it. While not a bad practice, it lacks effort and accountability for the core problem which is the release of greenhouse gases in the first place.
If a company is only carbon offsetting and not taking steps to make their whole process more sustainable then they’re likely using carbon offsetting as a form of greenwashing. But, if carbon offsetting is a part of a greater plan for sustainability within a company, it may not be greenwashing.