What is greenwashing, and how to avoid being a victim?

What is greenwashing, and why must we be aware of this practice?

Let’s start by explaining a straightforward concept of the economy that is the basis of greenwashing.

Companies, especially B2C, offer goods and services to CONSUMERS.

It is a very basic concept. Indeed, generally speaking, companies produce goods or services based on consumer demand.

Let’s take an absurd example.

But if lower the price is not enough, and we all stop buying that drink, even if it’s sold for a penny, there won’t be much to do for the company. Either they produce another alternative product quickly, or they have to close to bankruptcy.

Once we understand that companies need consumers to make profits, it is more evident to understand why and how companies do greenwashing.

Before continuing, let’s define now the greenwashing:

Greenwashing is a deceptive marketing strategy.

When a company or organization wants to appear more environmentally friendly or ecological (more natural, healthier, free of chemicals, recyclable, less wasteful of natural resources, etc.) when in practice, its activities pollute the environment.

Why do companies want to give misleading information about how a company’s products are more environmentally sound?

The reason is simple and connected with the introductory “economic lesson” explained earlier. As more and more young people and citizens are taking care of the climate change issue, companies find themselves forced to adapt by offering more sustainable goods and services every day. Consumer demand is shifting towards sustainability.

If companies do not adapt, fewer and fewer people will buy their products, bringing the company lower profits and more and more losses.

Since not all companies sustainably produce their products or services to keep selling, they started lying or showcasing a small number of sustainable practices to make profits.

To understand how not to be fooled by companies that lie (in whole or part) to us consumers, now we will see the five aspects to consider to understand if the company is greenwashing or not.

1. ENVIRONMENTAL IMAGES

Companies use a visual semiotic approach to influence customers’ choices and make them think that their products are more natural and sustainable. If you notice images in nature, green, with leaves, etc., look at an advertisement, do not assume that the product is sustainable!

Why is Coca-Cola not sustainable? Mainly because the Coca-Cola Company (and PepsiCo) is ranked as the world’s top plastic polluters for the 4th consecutive year according to Break Free From Plastic, whose latest global Brand Audit report also charges the same leading plastic polluters for fueling the climate crisis.

2. MISLEADING LABELS

Plus, some material that general customers think is sustainable, in reality, it isn’t. For example, cotton is a plant-based fibre. Therefore, it is more sustainable than synthetic fibres. Although it is a natural fibre, conventional cotton is far from environmentally friendly. It needs a lot of water to grow. Indeed it takes 10,000 litres of water to grow 1kg of cotton, and it is mainly produced in dry and warm regions.

3. HIDDEN TRADE-OFFS

13 May 2013 Rana Plaza collapse.

4. IRRELEVANT CLAIMS

For example, animal testing for cosmetic purposes was — with a few exceptions — banned under EU law in 2009. A ban on all animal testing came into force in 2013.

5. HIDDEN EVIL

An example is a company selling organic cigarettes.

Now…

There are no leaves, mountains or persuasive images. Plus the company is telling you not to buy this jacket!! The first, honest, and most important step to living more sustainably is precisely to abandon the concept of consumerism.

Buy ONLY if and when you need something! The environment and your wallet will be happier.

Last but not least, remember that as a consumer, you have the PURCHASING POWER.

But if millions of individuals stop buying water in plastic bottles, I can assure you that companies will get rid of plastic bottles and be forced to find another way to sell water.

Don’t ever underestimate your purchasing power.

If you want to know more about sustainability and greenwashing, you can see my Masterclass for free on the LMF platform! Using the SKILLS code, you will have two months free.

This blog contribution was made by Eleonora Papini.

Eleonora has 3+ of experience in sustainable development and international cooperation with a background in Economic Development and International Cooperation with Finance.

Her background includes working as a Project Implementation Officer in a European project about urban sustainable development solutions to value the young and female entrepreneurship industry.

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