The Dark Reality of Greenwashing


Madison Yee, Staff Writer

In a world of evolving technology and brand tactics, sustainability has become an important factor for consumers when investing in new products. The demand for “green” ingredients and items has become the key to positive public relations and brand image—making companies feel the need to partake in this. Yet, under the new mantra of “nature friendly,” there have also been misleading advertisements from companies that might appear to be more sustainable than they truly are. 

Also known as “greenwashing,” this phenomenon has brought the reality of many favorite brands who are not genuinely environmentally friendly into question. Greenwashing happens when a firm makes misleading claims about environmental benefits in terms of a product, service, technology, etc.

The Corporate Finance Institute explains greenwashing as when firms spend “large amounts of time and money in advertising and marketing their ‘green’ goods or services rather than using that time and money in actually implementing environmentally friendly practices.”

An example of this phenomenon might be a restaurant that uses photos of fresh food and lush nature scenes to depict that it has “healthy and organic” food, when in reality, it uses processed food stored in unsustainable packaging. Another example is that of cosmetic products with vague descriptions like “naturally-derived,” but might contain toxic chemicals. When research isn’t done, some simple words slapped on labels might give the wrong impression to consumers who assume that companies are sustainable, even though they actually aren’t.

“The prevalence of greenwashing has skyrocketed in recent years. More and more firms have been combining poor environmental performance with positive communication about environmental performance,” said Magali Delmas, a professor of management at the University of California, Los Angeles. 

A consulting firm, TerraChoice, studied greenwashing and discovered that 95% of items marketed as “eco-friendly” had been guilty of partaking in one or more of the “seven sins of greenwashing.”

This leads to the question of what these seven sins are. First and foremost, there is the sin of the hidden trade-off. Following are the sins of no proof, vagueness, irrelevance, lesser of two evils, fibber, and worshipping false labels. 

To save yourself from being persuaded into following brands that are greenwashing, the best thing to do is educate yourself and others on trustworthy certifications, environmental issues, and the sins of greenwashing as well as doing proper research when purchasing items.


Graphic courtesy of CHAINBULLETIN.COM