WHAT IS IT?
'Greenwashing' is a term used for when a business makes an unsubstantial claim about their environmental practice or sustainability of a product. It often gives a false impression that the company is environmentally-friendly, or a product does not harm the environment and is sustainable; when, sadly, this may not be the case.
As we become more aware of the environmental crisis that we are all experiencing, we are increasingly mindful of how our actions cause harm. If a product or service appeals to our growing care for the environment, then it is more likely for a business to increase their sales or appeal to a certain market.
There are many ways a company can greenwash products or services. Here are some examples:
A business may advertise a product, service, or their brand by using certain colours and imagery that imply values or a certain ethos. This type of advertising or branding often gives the impression that the company values nature; that they care about environmental and social issues, and that their products are environmentally-friendly - making them a great choice to purchase.
Misleading labels or descriptors
A business may label or describe a product or service by using environmental "buzzwords", such as eco (see example below) to market their option as a good choice... so you buy it.
Before putting it in the basket, question the enticing labels for a second - is it really an eco choice? Have they offered any information or evidence to substantiate the claim that the product or service is environmentally-friendly?
Above, we have an example of what could be a misleading label.
The product description offered no information explaining how the product is environmentally-friendly, rather, the business is resting upon your assumption that the product looks 'eco', and therefore, is. Yet, if we take a second, we can de-bunk our assumption by affirming that these pens are still made up of plastic, and are packaged in a plastic, non-recyclable package. So, sadly, this product's claim to be 'eco' may not be substantiated.
Not dissimilar to 'misleading labels or descriptors', vague information can be a claim or description that doesn't quite cut it. The above example could be classed as vague information as "eco" doesn't describe the product's qualities to explain why the product is deemed as environmentally friendly, so it's claim isn't substantiated.
Even though a product's claim of sustainability may be correct, there may be hidden "trade-offs" within the business. This means that the marketed product proves to be environmentally-friendly, but the business could be involved in other practices that aren't ethical or sustainable. A company may advertise or market themselves as ethical, but hide other unappealing aspects of the business.
One example of this may be that a company may market and sell a product that is made of natural materials with biodegradable packaging. However, their manufacturing process may be an unethical, with no regards to waste, pollution, or be involved in the exploitation of workers.
Although this instance of greenwashing is a lot more difficult to spot, it's important for company's to be honest about their processes and products to verify their proposed values. Information should be provided, businesses should not just expect the customer's trust. If this information isn't readily available, the company is either lax, or something may be wrong.
ACTION AGAINST GREENWASHING
As consumers we need to become more aware and ensure that we use our initiative in making good decisions with the information that is available. If a product claims to be sustainable and it is easily reasonable to see why it is - great. But if a product claims to be “eco” and is in a non-recyclable package; then, hey - there you go, we’d say that’s a cause for concern.
It's easy to become overwhelmed by anxiety around external forces of control and especially when it involves the procurement of regular essentials. Yes, as a consumer we do have a degree of responsibility, but we cannot fully take the burden of unethical business practice through our buying power.
Businesses make conscious decisions to choose harmful processes. We can try our best to avoid them, but further action needs to be taken that is outside of our jurisdiction as a consumer. As with many of the great injustices, this issue runs far deeper than misleading buyers. Ultimately, by bending the truth or conveying a different image, economic processes are profiting from not being accountable for their actions. We need to stand up for more stringent environmental and social regulation and protection.
We're here to stand up to this with you.