For as long as climate change and environmental standards have been fighting to be a no.1 factor in decision making, businesses have been finding loopholes in their marketing to manipulate our desire for better. As we begin to accept individual responsibility and inevitably work on being part of the collective responsibility of these issues, it becomes more and more difficult to navigate and trust the transparency of brands.
The term Greenwashing was coined by environmentalist Jay Westerveld in 1986. Using media outlets, he was drawing attention to the hypocrisy of specific businesses practices. Whilst they were uniting with an emphasis on their ethos being healthy for our world, the public only had limited access to important information. They were bombarded with statements that made them feel as though they were making purchases that would have a positive impact on the world when the companies were actually making inhouse decisions that either weren’t having any effect or worse, were actually damaging the environment.
Most famously, Volkswagen was under greenwashing fire in 2015. Volkswagen sold 11 million cars, not suggesting, but telling their customers they were more environmentally friendly. These ‘clean diesel’ cars were fitted with a device that was designed to cheat emissions tests to appear better for the environment. $11 billion + has been given back to consumers that were affected, but in today’s climate with the internet and mountains of information at our fingertips, how can we avoid other companies doing this?
Labelling and Certifications
Positively the world is full of organisations working with laws to help us identify healthy companies. With many different industries with different sectors, not all certifications apply across the board. However, with a little extra research before we make a purchase we can check that we’re not being greenwashed. There are seven categories that certifications live under depending on what item or type of business you’re looking at.
Forest Certifications - e.g FSC
Sea Certifications - e.g MSC
Animal Certifications - e.g Peta
Organic Certifications - e.g Soil Association Organic
Fair Trade Certifications- e.g Guaranteed Fair Trade
Energy Certifications - e.g Certified Carbon Neutral
Better Business Certifications - e.g B-Corp
Brands vs Products
When sourcing products continuously it’s easier and more manageable to look to a brand rather than a product. For instance, you want to purchase a shampoo and you search across many brands and many types of products before settling on one. Then you realise you need to purchase a body wash a week later. If you then go back to the same brand that you’ve previously researched, you can trust your purchase is environmentally conscious without having to spend more hours researching.
The cost of buzzwords
The biggest telling sign of greenwashing is cost. If something is ‘eco’ ‘sustainable’ and ‘earth-conscious’ yet is a fraction of the cost of anything else, it’s too good to be true. Products don’t have to be expensive, but it’s very unlikely that a company can withhold high environmental standards if it’s not partially reflected in the cost of their products.
We can do more to avoid greenwashing by looking for clear signs a company is helping the environment. The more educated we are as individuals, the better choices we make and the more businesses have to follow suit to stay relevant.