The Greenwashing Guide for Beginners

By Isabelle Cheng, 2MD4

With the awareness of the perils of global warming on the rise, many of us consumers have begun to make the decisive switch to a cleaner, more eco-friendly lifestyle. However, with this follows the rather insidious phenomenon of greenwashing – the Cambridge dictionary describes it as “[making] people believe that your company is doing more to protect the environment than it really is”.

Corporations capitalise on our desire to preserve the environment though deceitfully “green” marketing, and under the guise of dazzling campaigns, glittery packaging and carefully crafted slogans have misdirected well-intentioned customers down the wrong path.

So how should we go about spotting instances of greenwashing? Luckily, in this Greenwashing Guide for Beginners, I will take you through the basic red flags of a company using scheming marketing tactics to make themselves appear more environmentally friendly.

  • Marketing-friendly buzz words: Terms like “eco”, “eco-friendly”, “green”, “bio”, “organic”, “clean”, or “sustainable”; I am more than sure we have all heard these one too many times in recent years. For example, in 2019, H&M launched their own line of “green” clothing titled “Conscious” with a mission that states, “Shop our selection of sustainable fashion pieces that make you both look and feel good.” However, these buzz words are not once legally defined or validated with a certification. Without official regulation, companies are free to dictate what they consider to be “sustainable” – even a cotton shirt that takes about 20 000 litres of water to produce.
  • Sweeping statements: Companies often make bold claims generalising environmental efforts such as “100% made from recyclable plastic” or “every bottle helps you save the planet”. Such statements are typically a warning sign that companies are cheating you with their products. An example of this would be Tide’s purclean laundry detergent, which advertised its laundry detergent as being 100% plant-based when the product is, in actuality, only 75% plant-based with the remaining 25 percent consisted of non-plant-based ingredients (including some even being derived from petroleum).
  • Consumer Ignorance: Brands can take advantage of our knowledge of eco-friendly products – or lack thereof – and utilise complex and foreign terms that claim to be true but are unhelpful and unimportant, ultimately distracting to the actual issue at hand. Instances of this would be marketing a product as CFC-free; while it sounds good on paper (or packaging), the ingredient is already banned by law and therefore has no relevance. to consumers.
  • Emotional Manipulation: The most Machiavellian of corporations will conjure images that tug at the heartstrings in order to establish a deeper connection with you and convince you of their message. Using kids to sell its product or images of nature and animals to paint an environmentally friendly picture could unconsciously persuade you into falling for its traps.

Now that you have gained some quintessential quick tips from this Greenwashing Guide for Beginners, the next time you take a trip to your nearby supermarket, take those rose-coloured lenses off and pay close attention to the labels before you buy anything you just might regret.

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