What is greenwashing

Fortunately, society is becoming more and more aware when it comes to exercising responsible and environmentally friendly consumption. That is why the demand for eco-friendly products continues to grow, thus reflecting a clear concern for environmental problems. However, some companies and entities take advantage of this vocation to sell products that are not really respectful with the environment. If you are interested in verifying that the products and services you buy are what they claim to be.

What is greenwashing

The word “greenwashing” is made up of two English roots, “green-“, which is green, and “-washing,” which means to wash. It could therefore be translated as a “green wash” , a form of marketing adopted by certain companies in which they claim to have acquired an environmental commitment, either in the operation of the company itself, in the relationships it establishes with third parties or in the products or services that it provides, without having introduced significant changes in its environmental policies.

Thus, the company benefits from the good intentions of its clients, who will prefer these companies to less “green” ones, even accepting extra costs, without carrying out an activity that they promote.

This has several serious consequences:

  • Environmental problems: really no improvement is introduced with respect to these issues, or if it is done, the proportion is so small that it becomes practically imperceptible in the results.
  • Deception of the consumer: consumer organizations tend to have an eye on the phenomena of greenwashing, since when they are selling properties that do not really have a counterpart in reality, they are set up as a true deception of the consumer.
  • Disaffection of the public: It has been found that customers in a certain sector lose confidence in “green” products when cases of greenwashing come to light. So not only is the specific company that has perpetrated greenwashing penalized, but it is also detrimental to the rest of the companies in that sector, since trust in general is lost by this type of entities, products or services. Thus, those organizations that really exert an effort to reduce their ecological footprint are questioned by their clients.

The greenwashing phenomenon has been occurring since the 1980s, and is part of a general trend to “disguise” good intentions for organizations that definitely do not take into account corporate social responsibility (or CSR for its acronym in English) . These phenomena are generally called “whitewashing” , and are subdivided into “greenwashing”, “pinkwashing”, “bluewashing”, and so on.

How greenwashing works

Greenwashing includes different strategies to deceive the consumer or, to put it another way, not tell the whole truth or tell a half lie. In this section we will list some of the most common ones, which will be illustrated with examples in the next section.

  • “Green” marketing: companies and organizations use green colors and images of natural surroundings or elements to convey to the consumer that they are respectful of the environment, even if they have not made any changes to their policies. This is the most common strategy, and if you look around you will surely find several products that follow this pattern.
  • Compliance with legal requirements: there are some brands that advertise a product as “green”, when all it really does is comply with current environmental legislation.
  • Partially green: there are companies that make small, insignificant improvements and sell them as a titanic effort for the environment, although the rest of their activities (usually the main ones) continue to cause a very high negative environmental impact . Here we include products that are harmful per se , which they sell as “healthy” by introducing a very slight improvement.
  • The vagueness: there are companies that give clues like “we are working to reduce our carbon footprint”, or “we want our planet”. These would be examples of vague slogans, which do not inform the customer of the actual engagement.
  • The non-proof: in this case, we talk about concrete results, but no reliable proof is offered that the company is actually carrying it out. Environmental improvements must always be accompanied by transparency.
  • Misrepresenting results and lying: there are some companies that lie or misrepresent their results in terms of environmental policy , even using seals for which they are not actually certified.

Let’s look at some examples of greenwashing that are significant:

  • Companies fast food or fast food: some fast food companies use marketing strategies “green” changing the original color of your brand for green to indicate relationship with nature. In many cases it has been seen how they make this change in the brand but then very partial improvements are made in terms of separation at source of the waste they generate. However, intensive livestock and agriculture, the use of chemicals in their products and the very long transport chains that these companies use make them little or no green organizations.
  • Energy companies: in some cases of this type of company, greenwashing extends to the name of the companies. Normally, they link words related to nature and ecology to words like “energy”, clearly prompting us to think about the generation of green energies . However, there are companies of this type that do not dedicate themselves to clean or green energies or do not do so completely and continue to work with dirty or highly polluting energies.

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