What is Greenwashing
*This is part of a summer blog series written by an anonymous member of our alumni community. The opinions expressed here are independent of GREEN Program and do not necessary represent the views of our organization.*
The sun is cascading down the rangeline on your left as the crisp, salty air blows off of the ocean and into your nostrils. Two LED headlights come flying up behind as this beautiful, sleek, almost robotic vehicle passes you. You think to yourself, “wow, that human in that Tesla is rich and cares about the Earth. I aspire to be that”.
Hold your roll.
It’s 5:30 pm and you just got home from a long day of work and your face is quite oily and you just can’t wait to hit that refresh button on your day and wash your money maker. You grab your Origins ‘Brighter By Nature’ face wash and think, “I love how socially conscious I am with my cosmetic choices”.
Does this sound familiar to you?
I'm ready to break it to you, you've been greenwashed.
I am sorry to say it. It has happened to me and it has happened to some of the most nerdiest green nerds to ever nerd. Greenwashing is a company or product claiming to be ~green~ or a better ecological choice than competitors when in reality it is not.
Why You’re Getting Bamboozled
Simply put: they are exploiting the current ~green trend~ for marketing purposes and lying about their products. Well, technically they are not lying because that would be straight up illegal, but…
To quote Cardi B, “All a bad bitch need is the Money”. Money. That is the bottom line for every business decision. What can I put in my pocket after this. When people are branding their products they see a MASSIVE Ty-Dolla-$igns when they attach a ‘Green’ sticker to stand apart from their Blasé competition. Now moving on to introduce...
*PS sustainability isn’t a trend it needs to be a way of life. Had to say this because I would get crushed online because I said it was a trend*
The 7 sins of Green Washing
Greenwashing can be categorized into 7 sins, and I will use these sins to promote my own product just to show you how easy it is to fall into this trap. The Sin of:
The Hidden Trade-off
A product is ‘green’ based on a narrow set of attributes without attention to other important environmental issues.
"This product will help suppress your appetite and help you lose weight!"
An environmental claim that cannot be substantiated by easily accessible supporting information or by a reliable third-party certification.
"The post life of this product is 70% recyclable! Do you part!"
A claim that is so poorly defined or broad that its real meaning is likely to be misunderstood by the consumer.
"This product is All-Natural!"
Worshiping False Labels
A product that, through either words or images, gives the impression of third-party endorsement where no such endorsement exists.
"We are certified by the GreenChipPuff!"
An environmental claim that may be truthful but is unimportant or unhelpful for consumers seeking environmentally preferable products.
"This product is free of all CFC’s just for our consumers!"
Lesser of Two Evils
A claim that may be true within the product category, but that risks distracting the consumer from the greater environmental impacts of the category as a whole.
"We are 50% better for you than our laboratory made competitors!"
Environmental claims that are simply false.
"There are 0 negative emissions from our product!"
And that's how you get products like "one of a kind, all natural, organic, cigarettes!" Marketing is powerful and that is how companies get away with Greenwashing without any consumers noticing it or accountability.
A few real world examples
I'd recommend watching episode 1 of the Netflix show “Dirty Money" about this. In short, VW was pushing their clean diesel fleet that passed standard emission tests while only in a lab. How the car performed on the real road, outside the lab, was entirely different from an emmissions perspective.
Listen. I even blogged about Starbucks being revolutionary when they dropped plastic straws. That was incredible! It was a great move but I got caught up in the fact that it was just a PR spin as I drink my Starbucks coffee out of a strawless, but still 100% plastic cup. Wtf. They bluffed so hard I folded on a Royal Flush.
Nest Labs (the programmable thermostats)
Nest Labs has been incorrect in facts about their products efficiencies and numbers because, quite frankly, nobody would check them on it.
All in all, greenwashing = bad, but it is unavoidable. What these companies are doing is technically not illegal (except VW, that was straight up illegal as shit). Do yourself a favor and research some of your products if you are passionate about making the best ecological choices and don't always take marketing and certifications at face value.