Exposing Greenwashing: Eco-Friendly? or Eco-Fake?

Today, we’re diving deeper into the world of sustainability and unravelling the mystery of ‘greenwashing’ - yes, that sneaky imposter that sometimes disguises itself as an eco-friendly superhero. 

First things first, let’s tackle the big question: 

What on Earth is Greenwashing? 

Picture this…

You stroll through the aisles of your favourite store, eyes twinkling at the labels shouting “eco-friendly”, “green”, or “natural”. But here’s the catch - “Sometimes the grass isn’t always greener on the other side, sometimes It’s just painted”  

Greenwashing is the art of making a product or company seem more environmentally friendly than it actually is. It’s like dressing up in a nature loving disguise without the true commitment to sustainable practices. 

Infact, the term "Greenwashing" was originally coined by the environmentalist Jay Westerfeld in 1986, where he claimed a hotel industry falsely promoted the reuse of towels as part of a broader environmental strategy; when, in fact, the act was designed as a cost-saving measure (Orange and Cohen 2010)

You see, in this day and age, as consumers become more eco-conscious, understanding the different shades of greenwashing is essential.

The Consequences of Greenwashing?

The effects of greenwashing extend beyond just a misled purchase. It erodes trust in corporations, misguides consumer choices, and, more importantly, contributes to environmental degradation. 

But fear not, this blog is here to guide you with both insights and tools to see through this green haze and make genuinely green choices that benefit our beautiful planet. 

Empowering readers like yourselves to be more aware,  more critical and research-conscious is not just a suggestion, it’s a call to action

Are you ready? Let’s do this…

How to Spot Greenwashing

1. Vague Buzzwords, Claims or Exaggerations:

Keep an eye out for generic terms like “eco-friendly” or “green” without any concrete details. Words like these are often too easily used to mislead customers.

Why? Because there are no laws keeping companies from using such terms even if their product is far from being “sustainable” like it says on the tin.

Vague claims such as “natural” and “environmentally friendly” can sometimes be nothing more than a “self-given label”. Look for third-party trustworthy certifications. 

2. Misleading Imagery and Labels:

 A picture is worth a thousand words right? But sometimes, those words can be misleading. Some imagery like plants, farms or green labels can be used to confuse consumers and trick them into thinking that they are making wise decisions with their purchases. 

3. Hidden Ingredients:

Sneaky greenwashers may hide harmful ingredients behind a facade of greenery. Dive into the ingredient list to separate the truly green from the imposters.

If you see an ingredient that you are not familiar with…look it up!

4. Fake Certifications: 

Not all certifications carry the same weight! Some may be just a clever marketing ploy. Look for well-known, reputable certifications that genuinely vouch for a product’s green goodness. 

Find that seal of approval!

Here are just a few to mention as an example: 

Example image

Rainforest Alliance

The Rainforest Alliance certification focuses on sustainable agriculture, forestry, and tourism, emphasising conservation, community engagement, and worker welfare.

Example image

Fair Trade Certified

Fair Trade certification ensures that products meet social, economic, and environmental standards, promoting fair wages, safe working conditions, and sustainable practices.

Example image

USDA Organic

The USDA Organic seal verifies that agricultural products have been produced using organic farming methods without synthetic pesticides, herbicides, or fertilisers.

Example image

Marine Stewardship Council (MSC)

MSC certification indicates that seafood comes from sustainable fisheries that meet environmental, social, and economic criteria, helping to ensure the health of marine ecosystems.

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B Corp Certification

B Corp certification recognizes companies that meet rigorous standards of social and environmental performance, accountability, and transparency. 

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Carbon Trust Standard

The Carbon Trust Standard certifies organisations for measuring, managing, and reducing their carbon footprint, demonstrating a commitment to environmental sustainability.

Remember, Legitimate eco-friendly products flaunt specific certifications or transparent information about their sustainable practices. 

What Consumers Can Do?

Now that you’re equipped with more knowledge to combat greenwashing, let’s focus on turning that awareness into actionable steps to support genuine eco-friendly initiatives. 

1. Research Company Practices:

Companies with a true commitment to sustainability will gladly share their eco-journey with you. Dive into their websites, read up on their initiatives, and see if their actions match their green claims. 

2. Check For Certifications:

Trustworthy certifications can be your guiding lights in the world of authenticity.

3. Support Local and Small Businesses:

Often, local and small businesses are more transparent about their practices. Plus, supporting them boosts your community’s eco-efforts.

4. Reduce, Reuse, Recycle:

The timeless mantra of sustainability! Opt for products with minimal packaging, invest in reusable items, and recycle diligently. 

What Business Owners Can Do When Promoting Their Sustainable Journey, Service, or Product?

While consumers play a pivotal role, there is also a responsibility that lies with corporations, companies and businesses, however big or small, to combat greenwashing.

Whilst there are real-life examples out there of companies that have used blatant greenwashing tactics and strategies. It is also important to consider that there is such a thing as “Unintentional Greenwashing”

What I’m talking about here, is greenwashing by accident! 

Sharing your eco-friendly efforts is great, but how you do it matters big time. You might be all about sustainability, but if you don't tell your story right, it can backfire, even if you didn't mean to.

When you're shouting out about your green products, make sure you're crystal clear. Confusing messages could accidentally make you look less green, hurting your brand. So, keep it clear and honest to keep your green reputation shining!

How do I Avoid Unintentional Greenwashing?

1. Be Honest and Transparent:

Remember, Sustainability is a journey, it doesn’t happen overnight. 

Provide clear and honest information about your environmental practices, including both successes and areas for improvement (nobody’s perfect!) Transparency builds trust with consumers and helps to prevent misunderstandings.

If you’re struggling to make your business stand out in today’s eco-conscious world? My free booklet, A Beginner's Guide to  Sustainability Storytelling It's just the tool you need to harness the power of sustainability in your business narrative. It breaks down all the essential information, giving your business the edge it deserves. 

 Start telling your sustainability story with confidence!

2. Promise Less and Deliver More:

Instead of overpromising, tell your consumers exactly what they are getting.

Claiming your products are 100% plastic-free might sound simple, but achieving it can pose challenges. If you promise a 'plastic-free' product and a customer receives their order packaged in excessive bubble wrap, it could harm your reputation and lead to negative reviews.

"Being pleasantly surprised by genuine sustainable efforts is far preferable to feeling let down by unrealistic claims”.

3.  Sustain Your Green Claims:

"Practise what you preach!” If you are claiming to source a sustainable material, then provide all the information you can. Where do you get it from? What are the processes involved? What chemicals are used? Is fair trade involved? 

Even non-sustained claims that are true can be interpreted as greenwashing. 

Take time to look at your basic sustainable practices as a company first before you focus on the marketing.  

Remember those third-party certifications? No matter how green you are… avoid self-given labels! Nothing says “sustainably sourced” better than a trustworthy certificate. 

Let me take a minute here, to introduce you to ethy...

Ethy is your go-to partner for verifying brand credentials. With a simple and affordable assessment process, they ensure your brand earns a range of consumer-friendly ecolabels, each representing a unique sustainability achievement.

But that's not all! Ethy goes beyond verification. They support your business growth by offering sustainability workshops and promotional opportunities, along with ongoing strategy support.

Ready to take your brand's sustainability efforts to the next level? 

Explore more at ethy.co.uk

4. Be Accountable:

Building trust with your audience is best achieved through accountability. 

Before showcasing your brand's sustainability efforts, assess your carbon footprint and the true impact of your products throughout the entire supply chain. 

This will be key to understanding the genuine sustainability of your product or service and identifying where there are areas for improvement. 

Check out the World Land Trust!

The World Land Trust provides a solution to offset the environmental impact of your journeys while supporting conservation projects worldwide.

Their user-friendly online emissions calculators empower individuals and businesses to assess their carbon footprint and determine the cost of offsetting emissions. By donating to the Charity’s Carbon Balanced Programme, you can directly contribute to safeguarding carbon-rich habitats.

Ready to make a difference? Calculate and offset your footprint today at worldlandtrust.org 

5. Pair up with a sustainability copywriter:

Discover how partnering with a specialist copywriter can effortlessly alleviate your business woes and propel you toward success with my free guide,    7 Compelling Grounds  To Hire A Sustainability Copywriter

As we wrap up our greenwashing adventure, remember that making a positive impact on the environment is an ongoing process. Let's celebrate the companies genuinely striving for a greener world, support their efforts, and inspire others to join the eco-friendly cause.

As The Copy Advocate, this is where I come in.

I can Help. 

If you need help with your messaging then get in touch...

claire@thecopyadvocate.com or BOOK A CALL 

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