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The last few years have been filled with eco-buzzwords- from “upcycling” to “climate strikes” to “Net Zero.” They have also, however, been filled with the devastating effects of climate change.

The necessity to shift towards a more sustainable future is clear- and businesses have a critical role to play. Particularly in a post-pandemic world, consumers look to the organisations that promote sustainability and environmental resilience. 

Greenwashing can undermine this trust- and this is a buzzword that is worth learning.

In this article, we’ll answer the questions “what is greenwashing?” and “how can you spot greenwashing?” before giving you guidance on avoiding greenwashing as a business in 2021.

What is greenwashing?

Greenwashing occurs when a brand presents itself as more environmentally friendly than they are. Usually, this occurs through marketing or PR efforts. 

Greenwashing could be when a company presents a certain product as better for the environment than it is. On a wider scale, it might be the over-exaggeration of positive environmental policies in a mission statement. 

The term was created by Jay Westerveld in 1986, used to describe the reuse of hotel towels and the way that this was marketed as an environmental strategy, but was intended to cut costs. 

How to spot greenwashing

There are a few key ways to spot companies likely to be greenwashing. 

Aside from being caught out with a complete lie, the main sign of greenwashing is when a brand makes vague, sweeping statements. This could be writing “all environmentally friendly” on their website, for example. 

Genuinely eco-friendly brands, on the other hand, will be able to describe specifics of their policies or products. They will detail their operations and often provide proof from third parties.

A great example of this type of greenwashing is Greenpan’s metal kitchen utensil range which they labelled as “good for the environment.” Though they aren’t made of plastic, the metal they chose actually does not biodegrade so is no more sustainable.

Occasionally organisations will also make a true claim, but one that is irrelevant to their business to improve their image. For example, CFCs have been banned nationally for several years, but many organisations will still write “no CFC’s” on their packaging. 

Another clear greenwashing example is when a brand over-emphasises an eco-friendly area of operations as a way of drawing attention away from another, less eco-friendly area. 

A great example of this is when Coca Cola committed to not getting rid of their plastic bottles, but a few months later promoted the limited use of their recycled bottles as sustainability news. As the largest plastic polluter in the world, the minimal use of recycled plastic does not make a dent in its environmental impact.

How greenwashing affects a brand

Greenwashing, whether intentional or unintentional, can have a hugely negative impact on a brand. 

In the current climate, consumers feel an increasing responsibility to make green choices; making choices based on certain “facts” and then finding out that they have been misled or lied to can be very harmful to trust and loyalty. As a result, greenwashing is proven to lower buying intention and brand credibility.

How to avoid greenwashing 

There are a few key steps to take to avoid greenwashing.

The first is to ensure that all your environmental claims are not only clear but backed with evidence and explained in full. To check this, you should view all your claims from the perspective of a sceptic. 

It’s also important to be cautious. It’s better to say less than to say something incorrectly. 

One of the best things you can do to improve your brand’s sustainability and avoid greenwashing is put effort into genuinely moving towards sustainability. Switching to renewable energy is a great place to start. 

To get started with improving your businesses energy efficiency, click here.

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