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Are you being ‘greenwashed’?

Are you being ‘greenwashed’?

By Rosie Davenport


With the issue of being sustainable and responsible for how we behave as consumers growing with importance every day, it is no surprise that brands and companies have jumped on the bandwagon and tried to increase sales by creating misleading marketing campaigns that depict their ethos as clean and green. However, if the facts don’t match the advertising you may have been greenwashed.


The term ‘greenwashing’ is defined in the Oxford dictionary as ‘disinformation disseminated by an organization so as to present an environmentally responsible public image’.


It was first used by the environmentalist Jay Westerveld, as early as 1986, and was heavily associated to the scandalous Chevron advertising campaign which highlighted its employees protecting the environment. Despite such claims in advertising, it was uncovered that Chevron was actually violating both the Clean Air and Clean Water Act, as well as being guilty of spilling oil in natural reserves…


Nearly 35 years later, the game really hasn’t changed all that much, and if anything, the appetite for consumers wanting to shop for environmentally friendly and sustainable products has only boomed since the turn of the millennium. It is therefore of the highest importance that buyers are made fully aware of the truth hidden behind the fog of false advertising claims, and that organizations are transparent in how much time and money they dedicate to turning greener, or if most of their expenses are being spent on marketing.


Many of us will think we know better and can read between the lines of tactical marketing, however, with the increase in sponsored advertising littering and embedding itself into our social media feeds and daily life, it is all too easy to be misled.


One of the main culprits of greenwashed advertising comes from many companies selling water. Cast your mind back to the last time you watched one of these adverts on the TV. Are you picturing a waterfall? A field of green, luscious trees? A flowing and relaxing river, meandering around a bend? Yes, me too.

However, what we aren’t picturing are the plastic bottles that house the water in question – the plastic that pollutes our oceans and landfill continuously.


So, how do I prevent being greenwashed, I hear you scream! Here are a few top tips:


  1. Show us the certification – Many brands will now be registered and associated with companies such as Bluesign, or have a Fairtrade mark or Butterfly mark. These organizations have already done the work for you and fact checked company claims and production lines. These will clearly stand out and be labelled accordingly and are updated annually to make sure sustainability is at the heart of the organization’s ethos.
  2. Background check – If a company does not have any of these certifications there is nothing stopping you from doing your own research. The internet is your best friend. With many advertising and false claims being reported in the news and supply chain scandals being a hot topic recently, by simply googling the brand and doing some digging, any unfortunate history will be yours in a click.
  3. Find the facts – Don’t be swayed by fancy language, or anything that sounds overcomplicated and scientific. Usually these tactics are used to baffle audiences into thinking they are investing in the latest environmentally friendly trend. Buzzwords such ‘eco-friendly’ are also thrown about the place far too often, and the meaning can be inconspicuous.
  4. The proof is in the packaging – A tell-tale sign of a brand that is conscious of their environmental footprint is how they package their goods. It is the easiest way to start the process of being more sustainable. If a brand is sending things with a ludicrous amount of plastic or non-recyclable packaging, whilst claiming to be ‘green’, it really isn’t a good sign for the rest of their production such as their supply chains, factory conditions, and materials used.


    Hopefully these few hints help you keep your wits about you when being attracted by advertising. We can only hope that the more clued-up consumers get on greenwashing, the quicker companies have to become more transparent and honest, and ultimately start living up to what their advertising portrays.