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Greenwashing: Why It’s So Easy To Be Misled

There are many ways to mislead consumers into thinking they are making a good choice when buying a product. In most cases, this involves using words like “eco-friendly” and “natural” on the packaging. 

What Does “Greenwashing” Mean?

Greenwashing is a term that refers to the deceptive use of green marketing to promote the sale of products or services. Greenwashing is a form of spin in which companies claim their products or policies are environmentally friendly when they aren’t.

The term was coined in 1988 by environmentalist Jay Westerveld and has since taken on new meaning. Today, greenwashing describes any effort by an organization or company to mislead or deceive consumers about its environmental practices.

Many companies engage in greenwashing because it’s good for business. If a company can convince consumers that it cares about the environment, people are more likely to buy its products or services. Some companies even pay for third-party audits to prove their commitment to sustainability efforts—even when they don’t have any plans for change.

Greenwashing can take many forms, such as misleading claims about an organization’s green credentials, failure to meet targets and standards, or exaggerating the environmental benefits of products or services.

Why Is It So Easy To Be Misled?

Deceptive Claims

These are false or misleading claims that a product is “green” when, in fact, it has been produced using unsustainable manufacturing processes. 

For example, a company may advertise its product as biodegradable without specifying whether it breaks down quickly or slowly in the environment (or both). Or they may say something like “we use renewable resources” without limiting what those resources are or where they come from.

Misleading Labels

One of the most common ways companies greenwash their products is by using misleading labels and claims — such as “organic” or “carbon neutral”. 

These labels don’t necessarily mean anything unless they’re verified by an independent third party, such as an accreditation body or certification scheme.

Visual Communication Based On Nature

Images associated with nature can be used to communicate an eco-friendly message (e.g., graphics showing trees and water).

How Can We Avoid Being Misled?

The problem with greenwashing is that it can be difficult to tell when a company is being honest about its environmental practices or if it’s just trying to appear that way.

Here are some tips to avoid greenwashing:

  1. Look for third-party verification. It’s good to look for third-party verification of a company’s claims. You can check with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency or your state’s environmental protection agency to see if there are any complaints about the company’s environmental practices or violations of environmental regulations.
  2. Don’t be fooled by buzzwords and jargon. Green companies often use buzzwords to describe their products and services, but these words don’t always mean what you think they do. For example, “carbon neutral,” “green building,” and “sustainable” are all common buzzwords that could be used by almost any business to describe its practices and products without actually having any real impact on the environment.
  3. Check the company’s website before buying anything online or at a trade show booth. You’ll want to look for information about how the product was made, how much energy it uses, where it came from, who made it—everything you would expect from a responsible company selling an environmentally friendly product.”

While it may seem like a harmless marketing practice, greenwashing is very harmful. It can mislead consumers into buying products that aren’t good for the environment, and it also gives companies an excuse for not doing more to protect the environment. So let’s be careful and buy from companies that—although sometimes it’s not easy—really try to make fundamental changes to have less impact.