What is Greenwashing? A Sustainability Dilemma - Frequently Asked Questions(FAQ)

What is Greenwashing? A Sustainability Dilemma

May 17, 2022

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As empathy for the wellbeing of our planet increases, consumer demand for more sustainable products is growing. But which brands deserve to call themselves eco-warriors, and which ones are simply greenwashing their image? Greenwashing is a new ethical dilemma when it comes to sustainability in marketing. But what is greenwashing, and how can consumers and companies avoid falling into its trap?

What is Greenwashing?

Greenwashing is a term used to describe misleading claims about the environmental practices of a company or the sustainability of a product. This problem has become an increasingly important issue as consumer values and preferences have shifted towards sustainable products and services.

Greenwashing is a problem because it can lead consumers to believe that a product or service is more sustainable than it actually is. Not only can this cause people to make purchasing decisions that do not align with their values, it can result in unintended negative climate consequences. 

Examples of Greenwashing

Greenwashing occurs when companies make false or misleading claims about sustainability when marketing their products or services. This can range from intentionally overestimating how sustainable a product or practices truly are, to highlighting eco-conscious practices in the hopes of distracting consumers from larger, more damaging ones. 

One well-known example of greenwashing occurred when Volkswagen cheated on emissions tests. The company installed software in their vehicles that would turn on emission controls when testing the car, but turned them off once the car hit the road. As a result, the vehicles emitted 40 times the pollution that was reported by testing. Upon discovery, Volkswagen was forced to recall over 500,000 cars in the United States and pay billions of dollars in fines. The company also faced lawsuits from angry consumers who felt Volkswagen misled them about the environmental impact of their vehicles.

Another common but unethical practice is when companies claim a change in production practices is motivated by sustainability, but in reality, the company is motivated to cut production costs. 

Finally, an ethical breach can occur when companies exaggerate their environmental achievements in an effort downplay the ecological impacts of their products or services.

Ways to Avoid Greenwashing

On the one hand, companies want to appear to be sustainable and eco-friendly. But on the other hand, they don't want consumers to accuse them of greenwashing. So, what's a company to do?

Be transparent.

Consumers are becoming savvier about environmental issues. They want to know where their products come from and how brands approach production. As a result, brands need to incorporate true transparency to gain consumers' trust.

If you've made efforts to be more environmentally friendly, but your company still has room for improvement, be open about where you're still looking to grow your sustainability efforts. Consumers will appreciate your authenticity and can help hold you accountable for your continued evolution towards green practices.

Get green certified.

Get third-party certification labels, which help verify that a product is actually sustainable. Some certifications include:

These certifications can help give consumers peace of mind that they support truly a sustainable product and help make it easier for consumers to shop intentionally.

Start somewhere.

The thought of overhauling sourcing and production can be daunting, but there are steps any company can take, no matter where it is on its sustainability journey. Just beginning to consider eco-friendly options? Switching to recycled, recyclable, or compostable packaging is a great start. For any company, implementing offsets at checkout is a perfect way to account for last mile emissions and communicate your values to customers. 

In Conclusion

When it comes to sustainability, we all have a responsibility to do our parts. Instead of merely capitalizing on growing climate anxiety, be ethical and adjust your production and distribution practices to be more environmentally friendly. By adopting sustainable practices and remaining transparent with consumers, you can ensure your brand is making a real difference in the fight against climate change.

With so many options available to improve your brand's environmental impact, there is no excuse for greenwashing. So what steps will you take to avoid it?


Want to learn more?
Greenwashing FAQ

What is greenwashing?

Greenwashing is a term for when companies make false or misleading claims about sustainability when marketing their products or services.

Why is greenwashing such a problem?

Not only does greenwashing cause people to make purchasing decisions that do not align with their values, it can result in unintended negative climate consequences.

Are there consequences to greenwashing?

Yes. Not only are there legal and monetary ramifications, greenwashing can severely damage customer trust.

What’s the easiest way to avoid greenwashing?

The easiest way is to be transparent. Be open about where your company has room for improvement, and where you’re looking to grow your sustainability efforts


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