What is Greenwashing and Who is Participating?

It’s easy for companies to make bold claims about how environmentally sustainable they are or are becoming now that times have made society more conscious. In the past, large corporations such as Starbucks, Volkswagen, and Ikea have been exposed for lying about their sustainability statistics to the public.

This phenomenon of spreading false information is called “greenwashing” and is a harmful and deceitful way of advertising that a company is more sustainable than it is. In most instances, an organization spends more time and money on marketing itself as environmentally friendly than on actually minimizing its environmental impact.

Mother Nature is our muse” and boasts that it “has a team of experts dedicated to watching over each of our 13 spring sources”.

This is an issue and a shady marketing gimmick intended to mislead consumers who prefer to buy goods and services from environmentally conscious brands. The term was coined in the 80s when Chevron commissioned a series of television and print ads claiming that the brand was committing to an extreme environmental dedication. However, it was soon found that regardless of the campaign, Chevron was still violating the Clean Air Act and the Clean Water Act and spilling oil into wildlife refuges.

In an age where many individuals are gaining their information from social media and the internet, the data being produced must be accurate and truthful. Unfortunately, the troubling mix of forming opinions online and limited access to factual evidence has become a leading factor in giving businesses the platform to greenwash their environmental practices.

Recent studies and polls have proven that companies’ environmental records influenced most consumer purchases. Further, a Nielsen poll showed that 66% of global consumers are willing to pay more for environmentally sustainable products.

Only 31% of recyclable water bottles even get recycled, and plastic water bottles create millions of tons of garbage every year.

A common phenomenon of the idea of greenwashing can be found within many popular water bottle brands. For example, water industries brand themselves heavily on images of beautiful mountains and clean lakes to sell their products. In addition, many companies spend millions of dollars trying to market to the public that their bottled water isn’t only good to drink but is also helping the environment.

Companies have made efforts to reshape bottles into an “eco-shape” with more recycled plastic and “plant-based plastics,” which claim to be better for the planet. Unfortunately, plastic water bottles are one of the largest polluters in the world. However, companies can convince consumers otherwise through greenwashing.

In 2008, Nestle Waters Canada ran an ad claiming that “bottled water is the most environmentally responsible consumer product in the world.” More importantly, Nestle’s Arrowhead water claims that “Mother Nature is our muse” and boasts that it “has a team of experts dedicated to watching over each of our 13 spring sources”. These claims sound promising until the facts are released that only 31% of recyclable water bottles even get recycled, and plastic water bottles create millions of tons of garbage every year.

So when shopping, there are a few ways to spot when a company is greenwashing its sustainability statistics to the public eye.

Vague language implicates false claims.

If a brand is advertising its sustainability using language such as “natural,” “organic,” or “eco-friendly,” a quick check of the ingredients as well as googling company are essential to back up the manufacturer’s claims.

Abusing the color green

Most people know and would associate the color and word “green” with the planet or environment. Unfortunately, many manufacturers overuse the color green and use phrases such as “eco “ and “sustainable,” but they are rarely accurate to scientific standards.

Hiding factory information

Companies may claim to be “sustainable” in their products. However, if thousands of products being made in the same factory are not all being marketed as “sustainable,” this is a likely sign of greenwashing. Therefore, when evaluating a “sustainable” product, it is essential to factor in the supply-chain emissions from coal-powered factories overseas.

Company ownership

More prominent manufacturers known to be damaging the environment often buy out smaller brands to escape their previous reputation. Businesses can rebrand themselves through a smaller company, even though all products come from the same non-sustainable manufacturer.

Recyclable packaging

Products often say “recyclable” on the packaging. However, it is an easy thing to throw on a product to make consumers believe this to be true. In reality, many products marketed to be “recyclable” are not easy to recycle or not recyclable at all.

So when shopping, supporting brands and manufacturers with the same values as you as a consumer is essential. The money you have in your wallet eventually accumulates in the pockets of companies that have lied and are not in your best interests.

With the free Google extension, VotingSmarter, through a quick survey of your values, you can learn what companies share the same interests as you in subjects such as climate change, gun control, LGBTQ+ rights, and many more.

Take power back and download the Google extension today to learn what companies resonate with you.

Contributed by Jordy Puterman

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