Today we live in a world of choice. We choose what brands we want to buy, what sites we wish to visit, and which causes to support. And as we enter into an age insistent on environmental responsibility, consumers are faced with choices that hold far more weight than which toothpaste gets your teeth whiter. More and more, people are feeling compelled to look twice at everything from household cleaners and cars to shampoos and packaging. With so many brands under scrutiny, brand trust is becoming the ever-elusive holy grail of marketing. Consumers are becoming more skeptical than ever and communicating a company’s good intentions can be a challenge, especially when surrounded by wolves in sheep’s clothing.
There is no shortage of companies trying to cast a positive light on their otherwise questionable operations, and with the looming future of our planet becoming an increasingly pressing matter, ‘greenwashing’ is now common practice for many brands.
Greenwash – the act of misleading purchasers regarding the environmental practices of a company or the environmental benefits of a product or service.
Greenwashing was first identified in the late 1980’s after members of the hotel industry placed cards in each room, encouraging guests to ‘save the environment’ and reuse their towels. It was later revealed that most of these hotels were putting little to no effort towards recycling, or any other environmental practices, and the suggestive cards were purely profit driven. Since this discovery, activists have established the Six Sins of Greenwashing to help illuminate the various ways companies deceive their consumers.
Sin of Fibbing – most despicably, some manufacturers claim to meet environmental standards when in fact they do not.
Sin of No Proof – any claim that cannot be substantiated by easily accessible supporting information or by a third-party certification.
Sin of Irrelevance – some manufacturers make claims that may be truthful but are unimportant and unhelpful for consumers.
Sin of the Hidden Trade-Off – certain companies boldly focus on one single environmental attribute, sweeping other negative attributes under the rug.
Sin of Vagueness – many consumers are fooled by companies making broad, poorly defined claims like ‘100% natural’, when some natural substances are actually harmful for the environment.
Sin of Relativism – a product may be able to claim it’s environmentally preferable for its class, but shouldn’t necessarily be considered in the first place as an eco-friendly solution.
Check out our next installment when we look at some examples of greenwashing at its worst.