We are all trying to lead better lives.
And most of us want to buy products that are kinder to the planet.
But as we don’t have an unlimited amount of time to research everything we buy we all rely on green marketing to guide us when buying environmentally friendly products.
Sadly, this makes us all potential victims of greenwashing. If you really want to make a difference, you’re going to need to spot the signs of greenwashing and then take steps to avoid them.
Here’s what you need to know!
The Marketing Tricks That Lead To Deliberate Greenwashing
The low-effort, low-ethics marketing department (such as the ones at these fast fashion brands) knows how to make environmental claims that can’t be substantiated, which leads people to believe their sustainability efforts are delivering results when really, they’re just greenwashing.
The most common greenwashing tactic is to make claims that simply cannot be substantiated.
Eco-friendly sounds good, but it’s a meaningless phrase with no possible form of measurement behind it.
Other terms like “all-natural” are also meaningless.
Greenwashing claims always sound good but have nothing to do with sustainability at all. (You can find a list of meaningful sustainable terms here).
You want to look for certification on any “sustainable practices” that a company claims will reduce their environmental impact.
Confusing Products With Producers
A clever piece of greenwashing is when a marketing department has a product where their environmental assertions are true for the product, but not for the brand.
Think of an electric vehicle manufacturer, sure that EV is green but the lithium mining for the batteries? Not so much.
Sustainability is often murkier than you might think.
One of the cleverest ways to make false claims that lead to greenwashing is to use imagery that evokes “green” but is, of course, nothing of the sort.
Think flowers growing in an ashtray full of cigarette butts. There’s no sustainability present, even if it makes you feel that there’s some “green” thing happening there.
Greening The Impossible
Some claims are simply obviously untrue – think “the environmental benefits of vaping” for example.
There was never a time when time and money spent on inhaling nicotine and chemicals was going to lead to some sort of sustainability.
Consumers tend to trust brands that come with recommendations. So, many brands simply make up such recommendations.
A review that can’t obviously be connected with other consumers is worthless. Environmental-type claims in such reviews are also worthless.
Sadly, this is the hardest thing to spot – there are very few ways to avoid a brand that makes up data to support its false green position.
You can always Google to see if the research is real or if there are similar sustainable products that offer similar claims about the products but even that’s not foolproof.
How Green Marketing Can Help You Avoid Greenwashed Products
Ethical marketing departments can, however, help us as consumers determine whether those plastic bottles really are recyclable, etc. and that’s by offering the following:
- They can make clear claims that are simple to understand. This should include ways we can measure these claims (think 80% recycled materials) and any certifications they may have to back these claims up.
- They can offer data to reinforce their sustainable implications. This data should be fully sourced, linked to, and from credible third-party sources.
- They can offer comparisons to other similar products and only similar products. Think of this as the “apples to apples” test. You can’t evaluate a brand that offers completely different products to compare.
- Go beyond the marketers. Marketers have a job to do, sell products. But if companies are serious about being environmentally sound, they will want their brand and company to be truly eco-focused. That means having sustainability processes in place to reduce waste, improve reusability, develop green manufacturing, etc.
- Communicate the company plans for sustainability. Truly green companies want you to know their business model for making the world a better place. They provide transparency around their eco-targets and they are happy for their customers to ask questions and they respond to these questions in an open and honest fashion.
The good news is that many companies have already adopted these practices. You as a consumer, just need to find them.
Customers are catching on to what it means to “greenwash” and companies are starting to understand what their business must do to reassure their clients that their green approach is a strategy leading to a better world, not one leading to the fleecing of the consumer under false pretenses.
But, for now, at least, you should keep an eye out for attempts to greenwash and do business with honest companies that can show their commitment to the environment and the efforts they’re putting into making that commitment a reality.