What Is ‘Greenwash’ And How Can You Spot It?

  • 1 year ago
  • 6 Minutes to Read
Written by
Enviral

Greenwash. This marketing ploy does exactly what it says on the tin. Companies are painting themselves with a shade of eco-friendly green to trick consumers into thinking they’re more sustainable than they actually are. Sneaky hey? 

Not only is this misleading consumers, but it’s also helping to accelerate the breakdown of our climate! Yikes!

As the impact of human activity on the planet has been brought into the spotlight, we’ve seen the first steps in a shift in mindset with more and more of society questioning the norm.

With a 4,550% increase in Google searches related to ‘How to live a sustainable lifestyle’ since lockdown began, we know that there is a desire to do better.

Unfortunately, as we begin to search out more sustainable ways to live, in some cases, we can fall victim to some brands and businesses looking to take advantage. One form of this is ‘Greenwashing’, it’s probably a term you’ve heard of or come across but what does it actually mean?

‘Greenwashing’ is a process of actively misleading consumers and offering up false information on the environmental impact of their company, product and processes.

 The issue with Greenwashing, apart from the fact that it is morally wrong, is that it can influence people who want to help and support the planet to actually contribute to the opposite without their knowledge.

Let’s look at some shining examples: 

H&M

H&M announced their ‘Conscious Collection’ with adverts of floaty forested prints amid an abundance of greenery. The store’s new ‘sustainable style’ line was trumpeted by media and environmentalists, but they have since been questioned on how green their fashion really is.

The unclear messaging behind the line’s sustainability has been called a ‘joke’ by journalists, and Norwegian regulators have also slammed the fast-fashion giant’s claims for using misleading language and imagery to make claims about being eco-friendly.

“H&M are not being clear or specific enough in explaining how the clothes in the Conscious collection are more ‘sustainable’ than other products they sell.” — Bente Øverli, Deputy Director of Norway’s Consumer Authority

Shell

Good old Shell. We surely couldn’t write a blog on greenwash without mentioning these guys. As the world’s fourth-biggest oil and gas company, Shell is one of the 100 fossil fuel producers responsible for over 70% of global greenhouse gas emissions in the last three decades. Greenhouse gases from the oil and gas industry amount to 5.2 million tonnes of CO22 per year, and when burned, a litre of fuel emits 2kg of CO2. Yet according to Shell, they’re all about the environment.

Last year, the company committed $300m to invest in ‘natural ecosystems’ and reduce their net carbon emissions by 2%. All well and good, until you consider Shell’s $24 billion annual income. In comparison, that fund is a drop in the (oil-filled) ocean. In fact, in the same year, Shell invested $25 billion in oil and gas, developing fracking and extraction technologies.

The company has also become the latest oil & gas giant to unveil a net-zero emissions ambition for 2050, promising more spending on renewables. Yet, its lack of specifics has drawn mass criticism from green groups and investors.  

Shell’s use of celebrity ambassadors and nods towards sustainable efforts seem to be little more than a lazy PR stunt to paint themselves green, while remaining part of one of the most damaging industries the planet has ever known.

Ryanair

Recently, this polluting giant had its adverts banned by the UK advertising watchdog for claiming they have the lowest carbon emissions of any major airline in Europe. This is a pretty remarkable statement from a company awarded the accolade of one of Europe’s top 10 carbon emitters. These claims were based on the airline being the lowest CO2 emitter per passenger per kilometre flown, due to  the fact it has the youngest fleet, the highest proportion of seats filled on flights and the most efficient engines. Those who’ve flown Ryanair know they pack you on like sardines. 

Yet, the figures they used were from 2011, which according to the watchdog is “of little value as substantiation for a comparison made in 2019”.

Not only this, but a low-carbon airline seems like an oxymoron. Ryainair released 9.9 megatonnes of greenhouse gases in 2018 – a 6.9 per cent increase from 2017. Great work guys. 

So, if you’re a brand looking to showcase your environmental credentials, or if you’re looking to avoid being a victim, there are signs to look out for. Assess the claims the company is making, what green credentials are they boasting? Make sure any claims are relevant and backed up with supporting evidence, is the company being truly transparent in what they are saying and doing. 

Really do your research on a company. Every time you spend money, you are casting a vote for the company you are spending it on. Is this really a company that you want to support? 

We know no company is perfect, but make sure the company you’re supporting is really doing everything in their power to put purpose over profit.