Greenwashing: How Brands And Products Pretend To Be Green

A life 2023

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Greenwashing: How Brands And Products Pretend To Be Green
Greenwashing: How Brands And Products Pretend To Be Green
Video: Greenwashing: How Brands And Products Pretend To Be Green
Video: 5 TYPES OF GREENWASHING // reacting to greenwashing ads and products 2023, February

More and more brands today are heading towards environmental friendliness, which is not surprising - undertakings like sorting garbage or going to the store with eco-bags have finally become a habit of many buyers. However, not all products that are positioned as "green" are really environmentally friendly - sometimes their manufacturers are limited to only loud statements. This phenomenon is called "greenwashing" - we will tell you how it works and how to recognize it.

TEXT: Asya Pototskaya


Marketing move

The ideals of sustainability were spoken about in the late sixties, when the volume of production of artificial materials increased, and fast fashion began to capture new territory. In the early seventies, the famous environmental organizations Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth emerged, which questioned the idea that man is the king of nature. Together with new research, it became clear that taking care of the environment is necessary in order not only to preserve the quality of life of people, but also to save other species.

The interest in preserving the environment has affected the product market as well. The green approach gradually began to spread: back in the sixties and seventies, consumers began to pay attention to organic products, although, of course, it was far from modern "green" marketing at that time. The 1980s saw the emergence of several well-known green brands that are still flourishing today, including The Body Shop, Burt's Bees and Whole Foods.

Finally, in the nineties, sustainable brands gradually ceased to be a purely niche story. There was "green marketing", or eco-marketing, as they call the promotion of eco-friendly products or brands. In an amicable way, such products should be environmentally friendly or created in an environmentally friendly production. It must operate free of toxic or ozone-depleting substances and over-packaging, and use recycled or renewable materials.

The more conscious consumption becomes fashionable, the more actively manufacturers seek to show their involvement.

to the trend

It turned out that many people are really more willing to buy eco-products. Most consumers are ready for eco-friendly products, according to a 2014 study by market research firm Nielsen with people from sixty countries around the world. About 55% of those surveyed were willing to pay more if a company pays attention to how its products affect society and the environment. And 52% have bought items from such brands at least once in the last six months. More than half of the respondents reported that they checked the packaging of the product to see if it is harmful to the environment.

It would seem that the picture is good: consumers are ready to support environmental initiatives, and companies have a reason to make production more environmentally friendly. However, this approach is more difficult than it sounds: appropriate production and marketing implies additional costs and efforts. It is necessary to change established processes, introduce developments, reduce waste and emissions, obtain certifications, and also compete with non-green alternatives.

Some companies recognize the benefits of eco-marketing but are not willing to invest in real change, preferring to stick with green packaging logos and environmental slogans in advertising. The more conscious consumption becomes fashionable, the more actively manufacturers seek to show their involvement in the trend - even if there is nothing behind the big words. And the fact that the consumer is often unable or not ready to figure out which product is really "green" only plays into their hands.


The term "greenwashing" was coined by the American ecologist Jay Westerveld.In 1986, he wrote an essay on how hotels encouraged guests to use towels more than once and avoid changing their daily bedding. The owners of the establishments said that they wanted to reduce the damage to the environment in this way, but Westerveld was sure that it was only about cutting costs. The appeal, which angered Westerveld, spoke of saving coral reefs and oceans, but, in his opinion, the institution could harm the environment in other ways.

Greenwashing itself appeared much earlier than the term - at a time when public sentiment was ruled by television advertising. For example, a video featuring a "crying Indian" produced in the early seventies by the non-profit organization Keep America Beautiful with the participation of the American Advertising Council. In the story, a Native American, getting out of a canoe, sees the ground covered with debris and sheds a tear. The slogan of the campaign is “People started the pollution. People can stop him. " The video became one of the most famous social ads in the world and was ranked in the top 100 campaigns of the 20th century according to Ad Age magazine.

The cynicism of the situation is that behind Keep America Beautiful were the leading companies - manufacturers of drinks in disposable containers - among them, for example, Coca-Cola. At the same time, the participation of corporations in Keep America Beautiful was not emphasized in any way - the organization looked like a neutral third party. In Garbage Land, journalist Elizabeth Royt calls Keep America Beautiful "a masterful example of greenwashing." At first glance, the famous video has a completely correct message: there is no need to litter. At the same time, he completely shifts the responsibility to the buyer, while companies continue to produce and sell disposable packaging. In addition, the Iron Eyes Cody, who played in the commercial, was not a Native American, but an American-Italian actor.

Companies' claims must be backed up by evidence, and lies can turn out to be more than criticism

in the press, but also in lawsuits

Another famous greenwashing campaign was organized in the eighties by the oil company Chevron. She launched the People Do video series, in which the beauty of nature illustrated the claim that Chevron wants to leave everything untouched. The campaign turned out to be spectacular and even won an Effie award - while Chevron illegally dumped waste in wildlife habitats. The company did organize environmental programs, which it loudly announced, for example, restoring oil production sites - although it was silent about the fact that some of these measures are prescribed by law. Joshua Carliner, author of The Planet of the Corporations, estimates that Chevron spends only $ 5,000 a year on a butterfly conservation program that still exists, while advertising production and promotion costs hundreds of thousands.

The chemical company DuPont did a similar thing, in 1991, which coincided with the production of double-hulled oil tankers with a commercial featuring marine animals. It would seem, how can a company in whose video the sea lions flapping their flippers so touchingly, and otters spinning in the water under the ode "To Joy" by Beethoven, harm nature? Yet DuPont was found to be the largest polluter of any U.S. corporation that same year, according to a Friends of the Earth report.

The production and sale of bottled water is another good example of greenwashing. The advertisements for such products often include landscapes of pristine highlands, clean lakes and icy springs. The names of stamps, even Russian ones, say the same - for example, "Holy Spring". Companies spend millions to create the feeling that their product is part of nature. For example, in the 2000s, Nestlé decided to promote its plastic bottles as greener, and in Canadian advertising it called bottled water "the most environmentally responsible consumer product in the world."

The latter caused discontent among local eco-organizations, which complained about unfair advertising. According to environmentalists, a plastic bottle, in principle, cannot be an environmentally friendly option; it is safest for nature to drink water from a reusable bottle. But the International Bottled Water Association says bottled water is "a sign of positive change," as the industry now uses less non-recyclable plastic. Nestlé, for example, insists that their bottles are completely recyclable - and the footprint of bottled water is only a small fraction of the average consumer's carbon footprint.

Today the word "greenwashing" is used more and more often - it even entered the electronic version of the Oxford English Dictionary. It becomes clear that the claims of the companies must be supported by evidence, and the lies can turn into not only criticism in the press and protests of activists, but also lawsuits. For example, Walmart recently paid out a million dollars to settle claims for the sale of "green" biodegradable plastic. California law prohibits selling plastic packaging labeled "biodegradable" if it misleads customers - namely, if the manufacturer does not specify exactly how and for how long the material will degrade.


Where is the truth

According to recent research, more environmentally conscious shoppers are looking for more sustainable products among cleaning products, cosmetics and food. Fortunately, today there are more and more opportunities to check what is really behind the loud statements. The Sins of Greenwashing, a product testing and certifying company UL, reported 73% more green products on the market in 2010 than in 2009. Office products, health and beauty, detergents and home furnishings have the most greenwashing, followed by electronics and toys.

And although almost a decade has passed since the publication of this data, today "green" marketing is definitely more common. For example, from 2010 to 2015, the global organic market grew from $ 57 billion to $ 105 billion.

The same company UL formulated "sins of greenwashing" - a list of signs by which one can understand that the brand is actually just hiding behind slogans. Among them, for example, there is a hidden compromise: a product is called “environmentally friendly” because of one beneficial quality, while other harmful factors are hushed up. Thus, paper can be produced from ethically harvested wood, which does not negate the harm from other resources and associated emissions.

Other signs of greenwashing include unsubstantiated or abstract statements. For example, "completely natural": for example, arsenic, uranium, mercury and formaldehyde are found in nature and are completely natural, and also poisonous. There are also irrelevant statements: the brand proudly announces that it does not include a substance that is already prohibited by law, or calls itself "advanced" because it complies with mandatory regulations. There are also less obvious situations, such as "the lesser of two evils". The products are positioned as less harmful, but they belong to the category known to be hazardous to the environment.

The words "eco", "natural", emphasized "eco-friendly" packaging, marketing flirtation with herbs and nature

by themselves do not guarantee anything

In fact, greenwashing is found in almost all areas - from building materials (for example, "eco-paint" or "eco-market" made of natural materials, where the manufacturer is silent about their binders and the origin of raw materials) to products labeled "bio" without any certificates.The words “eco”, “natural”, emphasized “eco-friendly” packaging (for example, craft paper), marketing flirting with herbs and nature (“from the very heart of the Murom forests”) and other vague promises of the manufacturer in themselves do not guarantee anything.

Yulia Gracheva, PhD in Biology and Head of the Leaf of Life certification body, says: “The method for evaluating [such statements] must be clear, transparent, scientifically sound and documented. This will allow buyers to be confident in their reliability. Any approval must be supported by a document or test report. It does not matter whether it is about the inscription on the label "products are environmentally friendly" or "green". " According to her, in accordance with this standard, you cannot use general wording - "non-polluting", "environmentally friendly" and so on: laws do not control what is behind these words. “Statements must be clear, for example 'no milk powder', 'no dyes', 'no food additives', but at the same time appropriate,” notes Gracheva.

Greenwashing is not always the result of a cunning plan and deception of buyers - sometimes it is just over-enthusiasm of marketers. This is how incidents appear like soda "without GMO" - manufacturers forget not only that the harm of genetically modified products has not been proven, but also that soda, in principle, cannot be genetically modified. To distinguish a real eco-product from a fake one, you need to pay attention to the labeling - we described them in detail here. The Ecopolka project has released a free Ecolabel Guide app that recognizes real eco-labels on product packaging.

In international practice, there is the organic standard, established by the International Federation of Organic Agriculture, and the ISO 14024 standard, which evaluates the entire process of a product's existence in terms of how it affects the environment. There are many organic certification organizations around the world targeting these installations. In Russia, GOST 56508-2015 has been introduced, which defines what organic products are and how they should be produced, transported and stored, as well as GOST R 57022-2016, which controls how certificates are assigned to such goods. With the certification, according to Yulia Gracheva, "confusion": there are many companies that carry out it, their standards may differ, and their actions are still little controlled.

PHOTOS: Leonid -

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