Why no one is fooled by greenwashing

By Guy Montague-Jones

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Sustainability

Trickery and lies are not uncommon in marketing but when selling sustainability bending and twisting the truth has become standard practice.

Last week TerraChoice, an environmental consultancy firm, published a report claiming the vast majority of eco-friendly products are not as green as they seem.

Surveying toys, baby products, cosmetics and household cleaners, TerraChoice found that 98 percent had committed at least one of its seven sins of greenwashing.

The most benign and common of these offenses is the “sin of the hidden trade-off” whereby one environmental issue is emphasized at the expense of potentially more serious concerns.

Going green is a complicated process

Going green is not a simple process and too many companies are profiting from the complexity and confusion surrounding sustainability.

Flagging up the green credentials of a small part of a finished product is a simple and effective way to mislead consumers.

If one small ingredient in a cosmetics formulation is sustainably and ethically sourced then it is plain deception to emblazon the packaging with green propaganda.

Similarly talking up biodegradable and compostable packaging materials is misleading if the resources are not available to process them.

Sometimes companies will even go as far as making sustainability claims without having made any steps in that direction. It is not uncommon to hear companies claim to be sustainable because of what they do not do.

Sustainability is not a given

Is a paper packaging firm really sustainable just because it doesn’t produce plastic?

Obviously not, but such claims, made more or less explicitly, are not as rare as their absurdity would suggest.

With that sort of precedent it is not impossible to imagine companies in today’s economy saying declining sales and output are evidence of their commitment to lower carbon emissions.

Of course there are plenty of companies that are genuine in their commitment to sustainability but too many see it as just another consumer trend and find it easy to mock commitment.

Bogus claims may convince some people in the short run but over time the fake environmentalists will be rooted out.

Related topics: Market Trends

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