What Is Greenwashing?


Greenwashing Defined: Greenwashing refers to when an organization prioritizes marketing itself as environmentally friendly over taking genuine steps to reduce its environmental impact. This deceptive tactic aims to mislead consumers who prefer eco-conscious brands.

Origins of the Term “Greenwashing”

Jay Westerveld’s Coinage: In 1986, environmentalist Jay Westerveld coined the term “greenwashing” in a critical essay. He was inspired by the ironic “save the towel” movement in hotels, which saved hotels money but had minimal environmental impact. At the time, consumers couldn’t easily fact-check such claims as they can today.

Notable Greenwashing Examples

Chevron’s Deceptive Campaign: In the mid-’80s, Chevron ran an expensive “People Do” campaign promoting its environmental dedication. However, the company was simultaneously violating environmental regulations and causing oil spills in wildlife refuges.

DuPont’s Misleading Ads: In 1991, chemical giant DuPont advertised its double-hulled oil tankers with ads featuring marine animals set to Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy.” Yet, the company turned out to be the largest corporate polluter in the U.S. that year.

The Impact of Greenwashing on Brands

  • Evolving Greenwashing: Over the past two decades, greenwashing has evolved but still exists. As the world embraces eco-friendly practices, corporations face legal action for misleading environmental claims.
  • Alliance to End Plastic Waste: The Alliance to End Plastic Waste (AEPW), backed by big oil and chemical companies, promised to invest $1.5 billion to clean up plastic waste in developing countries. However, they failed to fulfill this commitment and continued producing more plastic.

Strategies to Prevent Greenwashing

  • Fluffy Language: Avoid using vague terms like “eco-friendly” or “natural.”
  • Green Products vs. Dirty Company: Beware of inconsistencies, like making efficient light bulbs in a polluting factory.
  • Evocative Pictures: Don’t use images that create an unjustified green impression, such as flowers blooming from exhaust pipes.
  • Credibility of Designations: Watch out for attempts to make a hazardous product appear safe through green labeling (e.g., “eco-friendly cigarettes“).
  • Imaginary Friends: Avoid labels that mimic third-party endorsements but are fabricated.
  • Outright Lies: Never use completely false claims or data.

In summary, greenwashing involves deceptive marketing to appear environmentally friendly, which can harm a brand’s reputation. To combat it, companies should avoid vague language, maintain consistency, and educate their marketers on ethical green branding practices.

Leave a Reply