Greenwashing: What is it?


Sophia Maybin

Image depicts a man holding money toward the camera while the scene is split between a forest and a factory.

What is Greenwashing?

In today’s world, companies only chase after one goal: money. When they say that they are contributing their part for the environment, it is normal to wonder how much they are actually doing.

According to Cambridge University, greenwashing makes, “people believe that your company is doing more to protect the environment than it really is.” In other words, greenwashing is a company making it appear like they are doing their part for the Earth, when in actuality, they are doing the bare minimum in order to improve their own public reputation and profits.

As the public’s attention began to grow surrounding environmentalism, many companies saw this as a new way to get more business. Therefore, greenwashing was born.

These companies put way more effort into marketing their products as “eco-friendly” instead of actually generating changes to make the company more sustainable.

How to spot it:

1.) Be careful when products make generic claims. If the product says something like “eco-friendly” or “100% natural.” As a consumer, how can these claims be trusted without real proof? Just because something says it’s environmentally friendly, does not mean it actually is.

2.) Check if there are labels from officials that prove the claims are verifiable. Any company can easily label the “cruelty-free” and the “completely natural” stickers on their packaging, but only a few are actually certified. An easy way to tell is if there is information provided as to why or how they are taking the initiative to help the environment.

3.) Do not be convinced that the product is helping the planet with the pictures of clear waters and chirping birds. This is most likely a marketing tactic leading the consumer to believe that a product is more environmentally friendly than it might actually be.

4.) Look at the labels. What do they say? Something that many of these greenwashed products say is “CFC free.” According to the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, “Chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs)… destroy the earth’s protective ozone layer, which shields the earth from harmful ultraviolet (UV-B) rays generated from the sun. CFCs and HCFCs also warm the lower atmosphere of the earth, changing global climate.” Now, while it is a great thing that companies are CFC free, CFCs were banned by the United States in 1978. This is just another obvious example of greenwashing.

Another specific example of greenwashing is the clothing company, H&M. H&M released their new clothing line called Conscious. These clothes are claimed to be sustainable, made from organic cotton and recycled polyester.

However, they gave no resources as to where and how these products were made/sourced from. But, whether these clothes were made sustainably or not (which they probably are not) is not the main point here. The point is that H&M is contradicting themselves. How are they releasing a “sustainable” clothing line, while they are still pumping out thousands of clothes each week in support of fast fashion?

This is an example of H&M being vague about their sustainability sources along with using greenwashing to turn them a higher profit.

So, what is being done about this issue?

Now, after reading this, it might be difficult to see who is actually trustworthy. Not to worry, there are still many companies that are doing their best to be environmentally friendly.

Danish toy company, Lego, has set new goals to be entirely eco-friendly by 2030. In 2019, Lego released the Lego Ideas Treehouse set. This set included 185 sustainable bricks, which made the treetop’s canopy. These sustainable bricks are derived from sugarcane, which makes polyethylene.

Lego also has sustainable sources as they are in collaboration with the World Wildlife Fund.

These few bricks that are made of polyethylene materials are only plants and leaves because they do not have the same durability requirement as the normal bricks. So, while this is a small step in the right direction, it is nice to hear that one of the largest toy companies has become more conscious about their carbon footprint. Read more about Lego’s sustainability statements here.

Overall, while there’s not much the average consumer is able to do about greenwashing, there are a few things they can do to help. First by identifying it themselves, and also spreading awareness about it to others. But, it is ultimately up to the big corporations to destroy this deceitful form of advertising.