What is Greenwashing and 5 ways to identify it

Corporations have realised the power of marketing themselves as environmentally conscious as more consumers are becoming aware of their purchasing power and aligning the companies they support with their values. A 2015 study by Nielson found that 66% of people are willing to pay more for a green product, while 50% of them are influenced by sustainability factors like environmentally friendly business practices, natural and/or organic ingredients as well as a commitment to social values.

Greenwashing describes organisations who unethically claim to be environmentally friendly with their policies, products or services solely as a marketing tool, but in reality they’re not. It was coined in the late 1980s in the United States of America with origins dating back to the 1960s. BP is a great example of a company that’s been Greenwashing for decades. They’ve tried every possible marketing spin and angle to come across as environmentally friendly in some capacity despite the fact that they’re one of the most destructive corporations globally, and have consistently been at the centre of irreparable environmental ruin like the 2010 oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Shell is no better, it bought a UK energy company in 2018, rebranded it as ‘Shell Energy’ and marketed it as 100% renewable energy. However, most of their business comes from fossil fuels. Contradictory much?

With so many companies jumping onto the sustainability bandwagon in recent years how do you know which ones are 100% transparent and true to their word? At Sheba, we’re committed to transparency and want you to be an empowered consumer and individual. So, here are 5 ways to identify Greenwashing:

1.Read the ingredient list and label

Whenever you see companies use words like “eco-friendly” or “natural” to advertise a product or service, always make sure to read the ingredient list or label. If they’re not being 100% transparent and including the full ingredient list that’s a red flag. If there are words you can’t pronounce on the label or ingredient list, research them. Don’t be blindsided by green buzzwords, as this is a very popular tactic used to Greenwash.

2.The use of environmental images

Sometimes companies use natural imagery like leaves, forests, the sea or animals when branding or advertising. Although not always the case, if a company uses excessive imagery like this it could be Greenwashing. Ensure that you read all the fine print and that you do your own research.

3. Look for certifications and proof of green practices

If an organisation is serious about their environmental impact they will have the correct certifications and sustainable practices in place. Certifications vary depending on the product, service or industry. A common one is the Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS) which ensures that products are at least 95% organic and made from materials that don’t contain any toxic chemicals like dyes or bleaches. Another common certification is ICEA which certifies that a product is in compliance with the GOTS. Understanding these certifications and their impact is vital to avoid Greenwashing and ensuring you’re making informed decisions.

4. Parent companies

As mentioned in the introduction, countless corporations have jumped onto the “environmentally conscious” bandwagon. Many of which have violated environmental policies in the past and continue to do so today. An easy way out for them is to begin a smaller company with a new brand, vision and mission which they then market as “green” to capitalise on the eco-friendly movement while the parent company continues to violate and destroy the environment.

5. Little to no transparency

Organisations that genuinely care about their environmental impact will be extremely forthcoming about it and not necessarily in a pushy way like many companies who Greenwash do. If an organisation claims to have a specific sustainable practice they will more than likely be up front about it, transparent about the ins and outs, and have the stats and facts to back it up. But companies who are vague and don’t really have any proof could have something to hide. An example of this is H&M which is one of the world’s most harmful fast-fashion brands. With their “Conscious Collection” they claim that the materials they use are more eco-friendly, but they’re not specific about how these materials reduce their environmental impact. H&M is also known for violating labour and human rights laws with its sweatshops.