A good starting point to understand what we mean by – ‘Greenwashing’, the new marketing tool of polluters – is to look up its definition on Wikipedia:
Greenwashing (a compound word modelled on “whitewash“), also called “green sheen“, is a form of marketing spin in which green PR (green values) and green marketing are deceptively used to persuade the public that an organisation’s products, aims and policies are environmentally friendly and therefore “better”; appeal to nature.
A widely used technique
Common examples present in the marketing of food products, alternative medicine and natural medicine.
This marketing technique is today used by a lot more companies and especially any business that is seen as damaging our planet.
Oil companies, of course, are the ones we are all thinking of and you’d be right. BP has been using it in its adverts and more generally through any PR manoeuvres they make.
The master of Greenwashing: BP
Bp or not BP? could not explain it better to us with this video below. This will give you a good insight of what’s actually behind the company PR strategy.
Greenwashing can be categorised into several types, 5 of the most prominent types being –
Types of ‘greenwashing’
- Environmental Imageries
Using wildlife related images is a classic of greenwashing. In fact, genuinely eco-friendly products often use simpler images and plain packaging.
- Misleading labels
Certain products are labelled “Certified”, “100% organic”, etc. without any supportive information to prove the same. There is a good chance that these labels are self-created and self-declared.
- Hidden trade-offs
Corporations can put up an act of being environmentally friendly and sustainable but have a very non-environmental friendly trade-off. An example is when clothing companies use “natural” or “recycled” materials while the clothing is actually developed through exploitative conditions. Genuine companies would definitely provide more information on energy, water conditions, greenhouse gas emissions, etc.
- Irrelevant Claims
Sometimes, you might come across labels that say they are free of certain chemicals. The substance might actually be banned by the law and is irrelevant to advertise as going green.
- Lesser of two evils
This refers to when the company’s claim is true within the product category, but a greater risk or environmental impact prevails. An example is a company selling organic cigarettes.
Caught out red handed
Some big players out there had a go at greenwashed us and failed miserably. We’ve included below the most outrageous ones.
The Volkswagen emissions scandal
This case really showed all of us what some businesses are prepared to do so their companies succeed. In the case of Volkswagen, they released an ad campaign to debunk the fact that diesel was bad and that it used a technology where it emitted fewer pollutants.
Later, the truth was revealed that Volkswagen rigged 11 million of its diesel cars with “defeat devices,” or technology designed to cheat emissions tests and that the vehicles emitted pollutants at levels up to 40 times the U.S. limit.
The federal agencies made the company to pay $14.7 billion to settle the allegations of cheating emissions tests and deceptive advertising.
Easyjet C02 emission claim
In a nation-wide press advertisement in 2008, EasyJet claimed that its plane emitted 22% less carbon dioxide than other planes on the same route.
This claim was debunked by the Advertising Standards Agency as the company did not make it clear that the figure was related to emissions per passenger and the airline was able to reduce the emission simply because of the fact that EasyJet planes could carry more passengers than traditional airlines.
Always ask questions
The surge in consumer demand for green products is so present today that ‘greenwashing’ from companies is bond to increase so it is important to remain alert and always try to find out a bit more about what you are buying or using.
ACT NOW! "The greatest threat to our planet is the belief that someone else will save it"Robert Swann
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