What is Greenwashing? Examples [2019]

What is Greenwashing? Examples [2019]

Do you think you’re getting tricked into buying products that claim to be green? Well… you might be! Greenwashing is a thing.

What is
Greenwashing?

Greenwashing is a deceptive practice that companies use to trick you into thinking that their products are environmentally friendly when they are not.

This article is going to show you everything about greenwashing that you need to know, including:

  • The definition of greenwashing
  • The different types of greenwashing to look out for
  • What regulations are in place to combat greenwashing
  • Greenwashing example
  • How to avoid greenwashing
  • Greenwashing scandals

Greenwashing Definition

Companies can unethically trick you into thinking their products are environmentally friendly. They do this because going green or zero waste is “trendy” and they want your money.

They know that people who are looking to lower their carbon footprint will be more enticed to buy products that claim to be eco-friendly.

Not to be confused with green marketing, greenwashing is when products give a false impression of being eco-friendly when they are not. Companies do this through false information, marketing tricks and straight-up FRAUD!

Below you can find different types of greenwashing to look out for and how to avoid it. Greenwashing is present in many different forms, so pay close attention.

Types of Greenwashing

1. Imagery

This type of greenwashing is when advertisements or product labels use nature, animals, leaves or the color green around their products. These images are usually associated with the green message.

This imagery can give consumers the feeling that the product is more eco-friendly. 

This is also a form of green marketing.

Example: A lot of car commercials feature vehicles in beautiful, nature scenes when a new gas-guzzler isn’t exactly the best for the environment. 

2. Clickbait

This type of greenwashing is straight-up fraud. It’s misleading and full of lies. This is when advertisements or labels say information that is completely untrue. When products are labeled “organic,” “100% recycled,” “certified,” “recyclable,” but are not. They use these words and phrases to click-baiting you into buying it.

These companies can go as far as making up their own certifications and be self-declared. 

Example: A paper company like Oji Paper Company claiming it uses 40% recycled content in their products when they use 0%.

3. Irrelevant Claims

This type of greenwashing has companies grasping for (reusable) straws to try to make them sound even better, but their claim is actually irrelevant.

A company wanting brownie points by advertising their product doesn’t contain a certain chemical that can be proved irrelevant if that certain chemical is outlawed for all products.

Chemicals are just one example, but it could be a number of different things. It could be animal testing claims, ingredient claims or packaging claims.

These claims sound good on labels but are just pointless because all products could claim the same thing.

Example: CFCs have been outlawed due to their harmful effects on the ozone. A product claiming to be “CFC Free” is greenwashing.

4. The Red Herring

This type of greenwashing frustrating. Companies will make one small part of their product eco-friendly and try to capitalize on it when the main product is environmentally destructive.

The product itself could be environmentally friendly. It could be compostable or a reusable water bottle. But the process of making the product could be destructive to the environment.

Another way this could go is if the product is not eco-friendly at all, but the packaging is recyclable. Companies will capitalize on the fact that they are using recycled cardboard as packaging to take away that the thing inside is not environmentally friendly.

Example: Organic cigarettes with recycled boxes are still f@cking bad for the environment.

5. Vagueness

This type of greenwashing makes the product sound good to the consumer by using “green” terminology, but the words are very vague and don’t have a direct meaning used across the board.

The biggest example is “eco-friendly” or “environmentally friendly.” This is very vague because there are a lot of factors that go into being environmentally friendly. When you see this label, you need to look for the HOW. How is the product environmentally friendly?

This article explains other terms to watch out for that are vague.

Example: “sustainable,” “non-toxic,” “biodegradable.”

6. No Receipts

This type of greenwashing has companies putting claims of their labels and advertisements that cannot be backed up or proved. This type of greenwashing is a type of clickbait greenwashing that was described above.

Labels and advertisements can have claims that cannot be verified and the companies will not verify when asked.

They will try anything to cover it up. Some will say they cannot share due to “trade secrets.”

Others will make up their own certification program to be able to have a certified symbol on their label.

This is a fraud. 

Example: SC Johnson created their own Greenlist certification to place on their products instead of being verified by a third party.

7. Bait and Switch

This form of greenwashing is when a company creates a small product that is eco-friendly to draw customers into their store. After the initial bait, customers are then presented with the rest of their product line which is full of products that are not environmentally friendly products.

Usually, this one eco-friendly product is over-priced to make customers choose the un-eco-friendly version.

Example: A toilet paper company sells one product made out of recycled paper. The recycled toilet paper is overpriced but still makes them look good. After baiting the customers, the customers may think all their products are eco-friendly or that the company has good values.

Greenwashing Regulation – FTC Green Guides

Greenwashing is regulated by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). They are a government agency that helps protects consumers against unlawful and unethical business practices.

For greenwashing, they have guidelines in place to regulate marketing claims.

You can find the guidelines set by the FTC in regards to greenwashing here. And if you can’t stand to read legalese, here is a good summary.

These guidelines are called the Green Guides. They were put into place when the FTC investigated six (five were guilty of greenwashing) companies that were misleading consumers with greenwashing.

Here is the list of companies if you’re curious:

  • Carnie Cap
  • ECM Biofilms
  • American Plastic Manufacturing
  • Clear Choice Housewares
  • CHAMP
  • AJM Packaging Corporation

Do The FTC Green Guides Stop Greenwashing?

These guidelines are in place and companies must be in compliance. However, there will be companies out there that refuse to comply and will put misleading products on the shelves.

These products may go unnoticed for a long time. The FTC received almost 3 million consumer reports in 2018 alone.

Plus they deal with ALL consumer marketing. Not just green or zero waste products. 

This is why you should know what to look for.

Greenwashing Examples 2019

There are many examples of what greenwashing can look like above, but I’ll show you some specific examples here.

Plastic water bottles like Poland Spring, Evian and Deer Park all have nature on their labels. Plastic water bottles are designed to be single-use and are one of the greatest dangers right now to our environment.

From Wikipedia:

Over the past years Walmart has proclaimed to “go green” with a sustainability campaign. However, according to the Institute For Local Reliance (ILRS), “Walmart’s sustainability campaign has done more to improve the company’s image than the environment.” Walmart still only generates 2 percent of U.S. electricity from wind and solar resources. According to the ILRS, Walmart routinely donates money to political candidates who vote against the environment. The retail giant responded to these accusations by stating “that it is serious about its commitment to reduce 20 million tons of greenhouse gas emissions by 2015.”

In 2018, Starbucks wanted to jump on trends such as “plastic straw bans,” so they came out with a straw-less lid. Butttttt….. That lid contained more plastic than the old lid + straw combo.

Here’s an article that will infuriate you about the situation.

Those are some examples from brands you will recognize. Sometimes it’s so subtle or the big news stories convince you otherwise, but it’s all a bunch of crap. Like Starbucks lids. They claim they’re recyclable but how much plastic actually gets recycled?

How to Avoid Greenwashing

Okay, so you now know that greenwashing f@cking sucks. There are guidelines in place to reduce it but companies can be sneaky. So how can you protect yourself?

The first step is to identify greenwashing. The second step is to not participate in buying the product. Your dollar is a vote! 

Want to do more? You can then take action to get the greenwashing removed.

Identify Greenwashing

Here are some ways to identify greenwashing:

Examine. See what they are claiming to be green. Is it the product, the packaging or the whole package?

Ask. Search for proof. Does their website explain? If not, directly contact them and ask. If they don’t respond or dance around your questions, you may have found greenwashing.

Research. Research claims to see if they’re making irrelevant claims such as being CFC-free.

Look. Look for certifications and seals from independent third parties. You may have to research the parties if you’re not familiar with them. Make sure to check that it is indeed a third party and that they can prove that the product is on their lists.

Ignore. Ignore the green imagery and other green marketing tactics. Get to the facts, labels, and specs.

Trust. Your instincts will alert you of red flags and other signs that are not quite right. 

Question. Question the whole product. How is it made, what is it made out of and how is it supposed to be discarded? 

Be careful of these claims, “caution,” “use in a well-ventilated area,” and “contains 50% more recycled content.” Caution and ventilation describe products that could be hazardous. Are they REALLY eco-friendly? 

With “contains 50% more recycled content,” what does that mean? 50% more than what?

After knowing that the product is greenwashed, don’t spend your money on it.

Take Action Against Greenwashing

Okay so you have identified some greenwashing and you’re DISGUSTED.

What can you do about it?

Say No. The best thing to do is to not spend your money on the product and spread the word.

Less demand will eventually get the product pulled from the market.

Contact them. You can also contact the company to address your concerns. Sometimes, rarely, the company did not intentionally greenwash their product. Once they understand, they can correct themselves or make improvements.

Contact FTC. Another thing to do is to hit up the FTC. They have online chat to determine if you should file a complaint or provide any help. Remember the FTC gets overloaded with complaints every year. And it takes a while for action to be taken.

Greenwashing SUCKS

Greenwashing can trick people into buying products that they thought would help them be green, but in reality, would help them lose money.

Most of the time these practices are sinister and the companies intentionally trick and scam.

Rarely is the company oblivious. But it could happen so always be nice when contacting them and asking questions about their claims.

The seven types of greenwashing above are just the most common. There are plenty of other ways that companies can greenwash their products. And I’m sure newer ways will be invented soon.

Once people catch on to scams, the scammers create new ones. It’s a cycle!

So get educated on what greenwashing is. Have caution when buying products to lower your footprint. And never believe anything on a label until you get proof.

After identifying a greenwashed product, AVOID THE THING! Do not waste your money on it. Tell everyone you know to avoid it.

After that, you can contact the company or go straight to the FTC. Either way, less demand will have the product pulled faster.

Check out this article next to take free environmental courses. You can get educated about the environment for free.

Let me know what products you have found that are greenwashed down below.

Greenwashing Articles

Here are some more articles to check out about greenwashing: 

https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/greenwashing/

https://medium.com/disruptive-design/what-is-greenwashing-how-to-spot-it-and-stop-it-c44f3d130d5

https://www.forbes.com/sites/realspin/2012/03/20/greenwashing-deceptive-business-claims-of-eco-friendliness/#25fc07753d9a

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