Corporate Greenwashing: Unmasking False Sustainability Claims

Corporate Greenwashing: Unmasking False Sustainability Claims

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In an era where environmental and sustainability concerns have taken center stage, consumers are becoming increasingly conscious of their impact on the planet. As a result, corporations are under mounting pressure to demonstrate their commitment to sustainability and eco-friendliness. However, not all companies have genuinely embraced sustainable practices. Some have resorted to a disingenuous tactic known as “corporate greenwashing” to create a façade of environmental responsibility while failing to make substantial changes. This article will explore corporate greenwashing, its implications, and how consumers can navigate the green marketing haze.

What is Corporate Greenwashing

Corporate greenwashing is misleading consumers and the public by overstating or falsely advertising a company’s environmental or sustainability initiatives. It involves carefully crafted marketing campaigns and PR strategies that create the illusion of a business being environmentally conscious. It neglects its operations’ true environmental and social impact.

The term “greenwashing” is a combination of “green” or environmental friendliness and “whitewashing” or covering up undesirable facts. It reflects the practice of using a green image to hide or distract from less environmentally friendly practices. This practice often involves exploiting the increasing demand for sustainable products and services to improve the company’s image and market share.

Greenwashing Tactics

Companies engaged in greenwashing employ various tactics to dupe consumers into perceiving them as environmentally responsible. Some common tactics include:

  • Making false claims of sustainability by posting sustainability policies and practices on their websites copied from the web that have yet to be implemented within the organization. Executing the procedure will require developing and implementing a sustainability strategy and programs to ensure continuous improvement.
  •  Adding eco-friendly labels on products without substantiation or relevance to their environmental impact. These labels can range from vague claims like “natural” or “green” to green logos that lack rigorous certification standards. Annoyingly, these labels come with increased product prices. 
  •  Making environmental or sustainability claims with little or no connection to the promoted product or service, for example, boasting about a product being “CFC-free” when CFCs are already banned across the industry. Another example is claiming BPA-free when it is not a plastic product. 
  •  Cherry-Picking data by showcasing minor eco-friendly efforts or achievements while conveniently omitting significant adverse impacts of the company’s activities is a greenwashing tactic. This tactic is well-played in the mining industry and organizations that use large amounts of water in water-impoverished communities. Cherry-picking is a deliberate practice of presenting the results of a study or experiment that best supports a hypothesis or argument instead of reporting all the findings. (Morse, 2010, p. 1 ).
  •  Making token gestures by implementing minimal and superficial sustainability measures, such as recycling a small percentage of waste and the rest quietly going to landfills to appear environmentally responsible. This scenario happens a lot in many industries, including the textile industry.
  •  Using green imagery, such as eco-friendly symbols, images of nature, or green colours in marketing materials, creates a perception of environmental responsibility, even if these are unrelated to the company’s practices. According to a study, when consumers were exposed to a high-eco-friendly logo colour (green), they perceived the retailer’s practice as more environmentally friendly. (Ranaweera and Wasala, 2023).

The Implications of Greenwashing

Corporate greenwashing can have several detrimental effects:

  • Greenwashing confuses and misleads consumers who want to make environmentally responsible choices. This can lead them to support companies that do not truly align with their values. Various organizations have been called out for misleading consumers with their greenwashing tactics. (Pellegrino, 2023)
  •  The deceptive nature of greenwashing erodes public trust in corporations, making it difficult for genuinely sustainable businesses to gain credibility. Larger organizations have more money for marketing and PR to reach larger audiences, making them a reasonable choice when it is just corporate greenwashing.
  •  Greenwashing can divert attention and resources from actual environmental problems, as it fosters a false sense of accomplishment in companies that are not genuinely making meaningful efforts. Subsequently, when these organizations are found out, it harms the sustainability movement. An example is the hoopla around irregularity around ESG rating, which organizations can potentially manipulate. ( Krull, 2022)
  •  Companies genuinely committed to sustainability may find competing with those using greenwashing tactics challenging, as the latter can offer a false sense of eco-friendliness at a lower cost. 

How do we Combat Greenwashing?

As consumers, employees, and stakeholders, we can take action to combat greenwashing:

  • Stay informed about environmental issues, sustainable practices, and eco-label certifications to identify genuine environmental claims. One of the ways you can stay informed is to subscribe to EnvironBuzz. 
  •  Investigate a company’s sustainability initiatives, look for third-party certifications, and read independent reviews to assess its steadfast environmental commitment. The type of initiatives carried out should tally with the number of resources taken from the environment or the degradation caused and the people impacted. 
  •  Encourage companies to be transparent about their environmental impact and hold them accountable for their claims. An organization that is not transparent in its activities should not be your go-to. 
  •  Choose to support companies with a proven track record of sustainability and eco-conscious practices.
  •  Advocate for more robust regulations against deceptive green marketing practices and support policymakers who promote transparency and sustainability. 

Conclusion

Corporate greenwashing is a concerning practice that undermines the genuine efforts of companies working towards a sustainable future. The Oil and Gas and Mining companies have caused the earth the most harm. (Westervelt, 2022). They have the most money to pay Marketing and PR agencies to whitewash incidents and provide greenwashed solutions to mitigate their organizations’ image.

As consumers, we must be vigilant and use our power to drive positive change. Assuming an organization’s credibility based on its size, reach, and profitability is not factual because, most times, vast profits result from its poor sustainability practices.

Reference

Morse, Janice M. (2010). Cherry Picking: Writing From Thin Data. Qualitative Health. Research, 20(1), 1.

Ranaweera and Wasala (2023). Color Matters: The Impact of Logo Color on Consumer Perceived Eco-Friendliness. Retrieved on August 4, 2023 from https://www.researchgate.net/publication/346469948_Color_Matters_The_Impact_of_Logo_Color_on_Consumer_Perceived_Eco-Friendliness

Pellegrino (2023).Explainer: Household brands accused of greenwashing. Retrieved on August 4, 2023 https://capitalmonitor.ai/sector/consumer/explainer-household-brands-accused-of-greenwashing/

Krull (2023).Is ESG Really A Sham? Retrieved on August 4, 2023 from https://www.forbes.com/sites/peterkrull/2022/10/25/is-esg-really-a-sham/?sh=7856944c5c12

Westervelt (2022) The great greenwashing scam: PR firms face reckoning after spinning for big oil. Retrieved on August 4, 2023 https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2022/feb/18/greenwashing-pr-advertising-oil-firms-exxon-chevron-shell-bp

About Post Author

Obie Agusiegbe

A Certified Sustainability and Environmental Management Expert with over 20 years’ experience in the sustainability sector. She works with organizations interested in improving their sustainability performance by assisting them identify and implement ways to include environmental and social aspects into their existing offerings. Her solutions are innovative and build bridges globally International Development | Africa | Clean Technologies | Climate Resilience | Humanitarian | Fairness
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