The What, Why, and How of Greenwashing: A Complete Guide to Spotting Scheming

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Environmental protection and living a sustainable and eco-friendly lifestyle are on-trend in fashion, beauty, and lifestyle. If you care about the environment, you’re probably vegan, choosing cruelty-free products, and looking for environmentally friendly shopping alternatives. However, your attempt to shop from businesses that, according to you, are making the world a better place by making Eco-friendly decisions may not yield the results you want. In other words, you could be a victim of Greenwashing. Greenwashing has become a catchphrase in recent years, but what exactly does it imply? With this article, we’ll let you know all about it, how to recognize and avoid frequent greenwashing red flags. So let’s get started.

What is Greenwashing?

The definition of greenwashing is when companies and businesses deceive their customers or audiences into believing that a product, service, or the company itself is eco friendly or sustainability-driven when it is not. Companies that engage in greenwashing may claim that their products are made from recycled materials or save energy. Even though some environmental claims may be somewhat valid, greenwashing corporations frequently exaggerate their claims or benefits to deceive consumers.

With brands like Asos, H&M, and Zara being called out in recent years, the fashion sector is one of the largest culprits of greenwashing. Everybody might not be aware of what is greenwashing, but It isn’t a new problem; it’s been around since the 1980s when the term was first coined. Greenwashing is a strategy for profiting from the increased demand for ecologically friendly goods. Genuine green products have facts and figures to back up their promises.

Greenwashing’s impacts on the Customers:

One of the issues of greenwashing is that it confuses consumers and diverts attention away from genuine eco-initiatives. Greenwashing may appear harmless on the surface, but the reality is significantly worse. Greenwashing isn’t done on purpose by all businesses. It’s sometimes as much a misunderstanding on the part of marketers as it is on the part of customers. Despite this, inadvertent greenwashing continues to propagate incorrect information about what it takes to be sustainable and can lead well-intentioned customers to make poor decisions.

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With the severity of the climate problem, customers, particularly Generation Z, are more hesitant about purchasing goods or services which do not consider environmental concerns. They’re also more willing to spend the extra money necessary to ensure that they get eco-friendly items. If a firm raises the price of a product and labels it as ecological, it may make much more money than if it wasn’t promoted.

It’s exploitation, as businesses emphasize the financial advantages of looking environmentally conscious above genuinely making the changes required to actually be ecologically conscious. They are oblivious to the potential influence of their marketing decisions on the environment. Brands are attempting to earn eco-credibility in more subtle ways. Many labels use photos of pristine mountain peaks or other green elements to convey a sense of freshness and abundance, although there is no evidence that this is true. One easy and comfortable way of being aware of these fraudulent tactics can be choosing to rely on sustainable fashion directories which actually focus on promoting actually eco-conscious stuff to help you steer clear of greenwashing.

Difference between Green MARKETING and Greenwashing

The line separating green marketing from greenwashing is thin. As opposed to greenwashing, green marketing is when a company sells a product or service based on actual environmental benefits. Green marketing ensures that businesses have a moral imperative to be more environmentally and socially responsible. They plan their operations to have as little detrimental influence on the environment as possible. Green marketing is often practical, honest, and transparent, and it refers to products or services that match the following criteria:

1. There are no harmful elements or substances that deplete the ozone layer.

2. It can be recycled or is made out of recycled materials.

3. Produced using renewable resources.

4. Produced in an environmentally friendly manner.

5. Doesn’t utilize a lot of packing.

6. Instead of being disposable, it is designed to be reused and repairable.

7. When a corporation does not adhere to the principles of sustainable business operations, however, green marketing can quickly turn into greenwashing. Consumers may be confused and misled by terms such as “eco-friendly,” “organic,” “healthy,” and “green.”

How to Avoid Greenwashing?

Beware of Greenwashing in Finance - Impakter

The concept is that consumer demand for sustainability is the tipping point in our transformation to a greener, fairer, and more intelligent global economy. Many fantastic firms and even those that aren’t but should be, present their environmental stories to the globe. The prevalence of “pure greenwash” — deliberate misinformation about a product’s impact – is low. There’s plenty out there, though, that measures up. With that in mind, here are some marketing and branding practices to watch out for in order to prevent greenwashing brands:

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1. Using ambiguous buzzwords– Words like “all-natural” and “eco-friendly” might indicate many different things. It’s best to utilize concrete language that explains how the products or services are ecologically friendly. They will say these things without clarifying how they came to be in that position. When you notice them, do some digging to discover whether they’ve offered any further information; if they haven’t, they’re probably greenwashing.

2. Lack of information and evidence– The company should be able to back up its environmental claims with evidence. Make it clear how the company is environmentally friendly.

3. False Claims or data– Reporting falsified statements or data to suggest sustainable business practices is outright deception of customers.

4. Using compelling images– A product’s photos might reveal a lot about it. You’re following the tail of green marketing when you utilize pictures that create the appearance of being green, even if the product isn’t “green” in the very first place.

5. Green product vs. Nasty corporation– This is probably the most obvious example of greenwashing. When a firm creates environmentally friendly items such as energy-efficient light bulbs or long-lasting clothing, but its factories contaminate the air and waterways.

6. Insignificant claims– Occasionally, brands focus on a single slight green characteristic or attribute for their goods or services, but the rest of their business is anti-green.

7. Simply untrustworthy labels: For example, “greening” a hazardous product to make it appear harmless.

Examples of Greenwashing:

On its website, the US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) provides various examples of greenwashing and specifics on its voluntary recommendations for misleading green marketing claims. The following is a collection of unsupported claims that could be classified as greenwashing:

1. “50% more recycled content than before,” says the label on an area rug. The manufacturer increased the recycled content from 2% to 3%. Even though the message is legally correct, it creates the impression that the rug includes a considerable proportion of recycled fiber.

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2. Apple works hard to maintain a positive public image as a green corporation. Many of the company’s “green” strategies, on the other hand, are merely cost-cutting measures. In order to reduce e-waste, Apple said in 2020 that the iPhone 12 might ship without headphones or a power charger. While this is a positive step, many opponents saw it as a ruse to divert attention away from the company’s trustworthy source of e-waste: planned obsolescence. The company’s phones are known for being difficult to repair and for losing developer support only just a few years after their debut.

3. “Recyclable” is written on a trash bag. Rubbish bags are generally not segregated from that other trash at the dump. Therefore they are doubtful to be reused. The claim is misleading since it claims an environmental benefit that does not exist.

4. “Recyclable” is printed on a plastic box containing a new shower curtain. It’s unclear whether the shower curtain or the package is recyclable. If any element of the packaging or its content, other than minor components, cannot be recycled, the label is deceiving in either situation.

5. Several car manufacturers pay lip service to green mobility by increasing fuel efficiency or incorporating recyclable materials in the interiors of their vehicles. Some companies, such as General Motors, promote tax subsidies for electric vehicle purchases and have ambitious objectives to manufacture zero-emission vehicles by 2035. To put it another way, many firms are actively pushing against regulations governing emission requirements that it has publicly promised to achieve.


“Going green” is a popular trend. Companies are cashing in on the trend by touting as many eco-benefits as possible for their products, even if the claims are a little too far out there to be believed. Do your part to hold corporations accountable by exposing greenwashing whenever you see it and supporting firms that do better with your wallet. We can all help by ensuring that the products and services we buy contribute to resolving the climate crisis.

Greenwashing infograph

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Dr. Divya Goil

Dr. Divya Goil

Dr. Divya Goil is a Sustainability Research Lead at a startup that empowers individuals to make sustainable choices. She is a medical doctor with a passion for environmental conservation and has dedicated her career to finding solutions for a more sustainable future.
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