Greenwashing Defined and Explained

Need to attract those eco-conscious consumers to increase sales? Try greenwashing.

Definition of Greenwashing
Definition of Greenwashing

What is greenwashing?

Greenwashing is the process of making false or misleading environmental claims to mislead customers.

It’s the method through which organizations spread misleading perception about their products or services that suggests they are more environmentally responsible than is the reality. The practice of greenwashing is used regularly by corporations, governments, and other entities to deceive the public into believing that they are doing more for the environment than they truly are in order to gain better public perception.

Deceptive green advertising and marketing misleads consumers and can shift customer loyalty with little basis on truth. Greenwashers perpetuate disinformation about their products or services in a variety of ways.

Here’s four-point test to determine whether a marketing message has been greenwashed or not:

  • Core business: If a greenwasher’s core business is environmentally destructive, likely their environmental message is tainted with disinformation and self-interest.
  • Advertising record: When an organization’s advertising budget is larger than that which is put aside for environmental improvement; their environmental motives should be questioned.
  • Research and development funding: By asking to what extent an organization’s research and development budget is used for developing environmentally-preferable products and services, you can tell fairly quickly how serious they are about their greenwashing message.
  • Environmental lobbying: Does a potential greenwashing company lobby against regulations that would reduce pollution or limit environmental degradation? Then they’re likely engaging in double-speak, spinning a green tale for you while supporting dirty methods at the same time.

Frequently asked questions (FAQs)

Greenwashing is the process of making false or misleading environmental claims to try to appeal to consumers’ concerns about the environment without actually taking steps to reduce their environmental impact.

Four examples of greenwashing:

  • Volkswagen promoting sustainability while cheating emissions tests
  • H&M releasing eco-friendly collections, despite being fast-fashion
  • Marketing alcohol-based hand sanitizers as “organic, all-natural”
  • Companies putting ecolabels on single-use plastics

Greenwashing is a problem because it undermines people’s trust in genuine sustainability efforts, distracts from real environmental issues, and allows companies to keep using environmentally unfriendly business practices.