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What Is greenwashing in business?

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Last editedDec 20202 min read

Companies are exploring different means to show that they're environmentally compliant, regardless of whether they're genuinely so. Greenwashing is a primary example of one of such means, in which case a company provides a misleading and false impression about a product’s environmental friendliness. Keep reading to know more about the meaning of greenwashing,  its examples, and how to avoid it. 

Understanding Greenwashing

There is an increasing clamour for the world to adopt environmentally friendly practices. However, in most cases, companies do not adopt these practices but want to appear like they do. In such cases, they employ greenwashing.

This involves a situation where companies convey an impression to the public that their products are more environmentally friendly. But in reality, this isn't the case. It typically occurs where a company claims to use natural products in a less wasteful manner, less chemicals, or recycle materials in their production process, when this is actually untrue or exaggerated. This, in turn, misleads customers about the extent of the benefit they stand to gain from the product. 

But that’s not all. Greenwashing also misdirects public attention from genuine climate efforts and fights against environmental challenges like air pollution, climate change, plastic population and species extinctions. It is worth noting, however, that some companies engage in greenwashing by accident, as they are unable to identify what is truly environmentally friendly and what isn’t.   

Examples of Greenwashing

The origin of the term 'greenwashing' is perhaps its best example. This was in the 1960s when hotels advised customers to reuse their towels in order to save the environment, whereas, in reality, the purpose was simply to reduce laundry costs. Since then, greenwashing has enjoyed popular usage as the false or deceptive claims put the company in good light and confers public acceptance.

The following are examples of claims that qualify as greenwashing:

  • A manufacturer increases the recycled content of its product from 2% to 3%. Afterwards, it claims a 50% increase in recycled content compared to before. While this is technically correct, it is misleading as it allows customers to think there is an extra 50% recycled content. 

  • A company labels trash bags as recyclable when, in fact, trash bags do not get separated during the recycling process. While the material might have been recyclable, such a company has nevertheless deceived the public since the trash bag will not get recycled. 

  • A company calls its plastic packaging containing a shower curtain “recyclable.” In this case, there is no clarity on which of the materials is recyclable. If any of the material turns out not to be, then the claim is simply deceptive. 

How to Avoid Greenwashing

Greenwashing carries serious implications for a brand, which explains why several companies are taking active steps to avoid it. Some of these steps include:

  • Avoiding fluffy language without a clear or precise meaning. 

  • Advertising and packaging teams can explain the green claims in ways the public can understand. 

  • All claims of eco-friendly products must identify the aspect of the product concerned, i.e. whether the whole product, its packaging, or merely a part of the product 

  • Companies must desist from overstating the environmental feature or benefit of a product either directly or impliedly 

  • Companies must ensure that they substantiate all claims of a product’s environmental benefit, especially when compared to a competitor. 

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