Know a Greenwashing Brand when You See One?
If a brand invests in carbon offsets, it’s a good thing, right? Right. Except when they’re telling their customers all about their carbon offsets and how environmentally-conscious and sustainable they are but aren’t actually doing anything to reduce their emissions.
That’s called greenwashing. Or at least, it’s one of the many versions of greenwashing (a tactic used to trick consumers into thinking a brand or product is more environmentally-friendly than they are). This tactic is intended to go unnoticed, which is why it can be difficult to spot sometimes.
We asked our LinkedIn followers if they are able to identify when a brand is greenwashing. 20% of participants said yes, while 13% said no. That 13% found green jargon to be confusing.
Then, the majority (67%) said that they were only able to identify greenwashing if it was really obvious. So, this blog post is dedicated to helping that 80% spot greenwashing.
How to Spot a Greenwashing Brand
1. Their Products and Claims Contradict Each Other
Say a brand is selling bottled water. Sure, the water part of the product is ‘all natural’, but the plastic bottle it comes in? Not so much. Of course, that’s a pretty obvious example but it illustrates the kind of questions you should be asking: ‘yes, this aspect of the product is eco-friendly, but what about the packaging?’, and vice versa.
Here’s another example. If a restaurant has banned plastic straws, but still use plastic coffee lids, can they claim to be sustainable?
It’s these kinds of questions you should be asking when a brand claims to be green, when in actuality, only one or two attributes can be considered eco-friendly.
Quick caveat: We know that many brands and businesses are starting small, taking sustainability one step at a time, and that’s great. We all have to start somewhere. If that’s the case, those brands must be 100% transparent about where they are in the journey. They should use the correct language, and supply sufficient proof. Which brings us to…
2. They Don’t have Proof
Brands who are making an effort to be more sustainable are proud of it. They are transparent about it. If there’s no section (or even just a paragraph) on their website on sustainability, and you can’t find any proof to back up their claims, it’s likely to be false advertising.
Green jargon and buzzwords aren’t proof. Which takes us to…
3. They use Vague Language and Buzzwords
As it stands, there are no strict regulations for what constitutes an “all-natural’ product. It could mean anything. Spoiler alert: Natural doesn’t mean safer.
For example, there are some toxic chemicals that occur in nature, like mercury, snake venom, and arsenic, to name a few. Then, there are some chemicals that, on the surface, don’t seem hazardous at all, like iron and oxygen, but in high doses, could be deadly.
You see? Words are meaningless unless they’re backed by facts and proof.
4. They use Colors and Images to Mislead You
This one is less blatant, because while the brand may not actually use the words ‘earth-friendly’, they use ‘earthy’ colors and imagery. When we, as consumers, see those colors and images, we assume that the brand is wholesome, and therefore must be eco-friendly in some way.
Be wary of animals, farms, forests, oceans, and mountains. These images imply that the product is somehow more ‘all-natural’ or sustainable than it may be.
Don’t let brands take advantage of the fact that you want to be more environmentally-conscious.
Look out for contradictions, demand proof, ignore buzzwords, and don’t fall for misleading colors and imagery.