Calling time on greenwashing

Greenwashing stinks. Here’s how consumers can sniff it out and what brands should do to tackle it.

Are you a conscious consumer?

Thought so. Sir David Attenborough, public declarations of a climate crisis, and the rise of Extinction Rebellion has got us all going green. But, like any new consumer trend, some crafty companies want to exploit this conscious consumer obsession for commercial gain.

Enter ‘Greenwashing’. 

Definition: the use of misleading marketing ploys related to sustainability. Basically, it’s a form of brainwashing that cons us into thinking the stuff we’re buying is green AF. A lot of the time, it’s not. 

One retail giant in the firing line is H&M, who’s so-called ‘conscious collection’ was criticised for being ‘deceptive’ by the Norwegian Consumer authority. H&M described the garments in question as ‘100% sustainable’- but what does that really mean?! Have they sprung from the ashes of the Amazon rainforest? Are they moulded from the corpses of the last polar bears? 

H&M have now updated the sustainability section of their website to provide clarity. But the marketing world is still awash with dubious eco claims. Companies need to back up green jargon with hard data and cough up the evidence to prove it. 

So, what’s making this greenwashing possible?:

  1. A lack of industry standards – sustainability certifications are voluntary, meaning offending organisations can dramatically over-egg their environmental credentials. 
  2. Limited consumer knowledge about the ins and outs of sustainable practises. 
  3. Little policing of sustainability claims.

If you’ve fallen for green trickery, you’re certainly not alone. Recent unlucky victims include none other than Prince Harry and Megan Markle. Convinced their fossil fuel- farting private jet was carbon neutral, they had no qualms about flying to Ibiza. Alas, the aircraft belched out seven times more Co2 per person than your average flight to the party isle, undermining the royal couple’s focus on sustainability.  

Granted, most of us aren’t taking private jets. But a lot of us splash a bit of extra cash to offset our carbon emissions. Unfortunately, paying to plant more trees won’t magically guzzle up all that carbon. In fact, it will stay in the atmosphere for hundreds of years. We need to understand what terms like ‘carbon neutral’ really mean so we can make more informed spending choices. 

So how can we avoid greenwashing as a consumer?

  1. Read product/service descriptions with eagle eyes and research ingredients, terms and materials to sniff out bullshit.
  2. Avoid anything with warnings on the label. If it’s harmful for humans, you can bet it’s harmful for the environment. 
  3. Make a beeline for B Corps – certified businesses that balance purpose and profit. Some other certifications to look out for are Green Mark, ISO and SGS. 

And let’s not despair. There are plenty of superhero companies putting planet before profit. Toast Ale are brewing with leftover loaves, The Cheeky Panda fashion tissues from bamboo and sustainable clothing pioneer Patagonia actively campaigns for environmental change. 

Killing off greenwashing for good requires action from both companies and consumers. Communications professionals must promote transparency, press for clear regulations and call out slimy leeching of the environmental agenda. Signing the #CreativesForClimate disclosure is a great way to start. And we all have a responsibility to be clued-up customers when filling our shopping baskets. 

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Photo by Tim Goedhart on Unsplash

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