Greenwashing and How to Identify it

If you click on a popular company’s website, you sure will find a “sustainability” section that is full of plans and promises for a better future. Businesses participate through social media to show their works for improving themselves, especially around Earth day. Some create new plans for their companies, others donate, and a few promise to conserve, etc. However, unfortunately, these improvements often can be seen as a good marketing strategy, rather than a promise the company plans to see through. According to Edie newsroom, 60% of fashion corporations are greenwashing their consumers with false sustainability claims.

What exactly is greenwashing?

Greenwashing is providing misleading information about a company’s sustainability on the extraction, production, and distribution of its products. Although products are shown to have fewer chemicals and environmental impacts with the term, greenwashing also creates a wall that blocks a business’s transparency with its consumers. When a product is marketed as recyclable or made from renewable, natural resources, a customer is more willing to purchase it than a competitor’s products. In a society that is becoming more aware of the severity and rapidity of climate change, when a company claims to be greener, they get more praise and popularity as they check off more boxes from the list of green expectations. According to Forbes, a 2017 survey found that 87% of people would purchase a product with an environmental and social benefit and acknowledgment if given the opportunity. For these reasons, corporations exaggerate their green initiatives and deceive their well-intended customers.

Many cases of greenwashing can be seen throughout the media with large companies such as Zara, H&M, and Nestle. Fast fashion companies are beginning to put more information about sustainability into their websites and other social media platforms like Zara Join Life or H&M CONSCIOUS.

However, in these companies, greenwashing can be inspected with minimal amounts of information. As said before, these are fast-fashion companies. They try to manufacture clothing at small prices to get more profit and rapidly produce a piece or style once it is acknowledged as popular. They also do not exactly know how many people will buy the items or will go unsold. Therefore, it is a risky business. Both brands mainly talk about using recycled and organic materials to create their clothing. According to CBC, a 2018 report has said that at H&M, out of the resources used to make approximately half a billion items a year, only 0.7% of it was recycled materials which show that the plans they have been ensuring their customers aren’t that efficient. Just like any other greenwashing company, they only mention just the tip of the iceberg. Because of their overproduction, there is a large clothing waste problem in which substantial amounts of garments end up in landfills. The work conditions are also bad for these companies’ workers since they work to produce cheap clothing. These brands aren't working as hard and efficiently about being eco-friendly as they ensure us. When there is a severe overproduction issue, it is disappointing that they immediately begin the talk with recycling rather than searching for solutions to first decrease their harmful manufacturing rates.

Greenwashing is incorrect; so how are some ways to spot it? There are 7 points to greenwashing that sure will help you identify the exaggerating and misleading brands.

1. Signs of the hidden trade-off:

A claim suggests that a product is eco-friendly by using narrow information without considering the full process. For example, paper is first acknowledged to be eco-friendly as it is made from a renewable source. However, there is more to producing a paper that isn’t as healthy for the environment such as the greenhouse gas emissions and the chlorine used in bleaching.

2. Signs of no proof:

When the written information isn’t supported with professional and reliable evidence such as studies. For example, a package that has the cruelty-free emblem or fair trade symbol on it will prove that the product was made without aminal testing, or was produced in a system of certification that helps producers and workers in developing countries.

3. Signs of vagueness:

A claim that isn’t detailed for the consumer to fully comprehend, Here, the claim is open-ended and poorly defined.

4. Signs of worshiping false labels:

A product that, by words or visuals, offers the appearance of third-party endorsement when none exists; in other words, fake labeling.

5. Signs of irrelevance:

An environmental claim that may be accurate but unnecessary and unhelpful. For example, a Canadian meat company claiming to raise chicken without hormones when raising chickens with added hormones has already been illegal in Canada since the 60s.

6. Signs of “the lesser of two evils”:

This is when the environmental or social claims of a company are correct but they are facing another and/or a bigger issue such as selling organic cigarettes. Cigarettes being organic is a plus and can decrease effects but cigarettes are detrimental to human health and should not be consumed.

7. Signs of fibbing:

Environmental claims are simply incorrect.


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