What Are The Main Greenwashing Tactics Companies Use?

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by KnowESG
Image of green paint brush trail greenwashing right to left

In recent years, many companies have tried to take advantage of the increasing demand for eco-friendly products and practices due to growing environmental concerns. However, not all companies are genuinely dedicated to sustainability as they might advertise. So why do enterprises greenwash? Well, many companies use greenwashing, which is a marketing strategy to create a false impression of being environmentally friendly. This has become a widespread problem in today's market. Companies may deceive consumers by using misleading claims and false advertising to promote products that harm the environment.

There is a lot of evidence and information from various reports and sources that prove greenwashing exists and is harmful. For example, Greenpeace's "Stop Greenwashing" report illustrates how common greenwashing is in the fashion industry. Additionally, the Federal Trade Commission's Green Guides offer advice for companies to prevent making false environmental claims.

The Environmental Defense Fund has published the "Six Sins of Greenwashing" report which highlights typical tactics used to greenwash across different industries. Similarly, the Union of Concerned Scientists has released "A Field Guide to Climate Misinformation" report that presents examples of misleading claims that challenge climate science and policies. Another report, by the Natural Resources Defense Council, called "Selling Sustainability Short" focuses on greenwashing in the food industry and suggests ways of enhancing sustainability.

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These reports highlight the importance of consumers and businesses being knowledgeable and alert in recognising and fighting against greenwashing. This article will discuss the greenwashing tactics commonly used by companies to make their products or services appear eco-friendly.

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Top Greenwashing Tactics Used by Companies in 2023

Here are some of the most common greenwashing tactics that companies use to gaslight their customers. 

The Use of Vague or Misleading Terminology

The use of unclear or deceptive language is a common greenwashing tactic. For instance, companies may market their product as "natural," "organic," or "eco-friendly" without defining these terms. Since there are no standard regulations, these labels may be misleading, and some companies may use them to falsely suggest that their product is environmentally friendly.

Emphasising One Small Aspect of a Product

A tactic commonly used for greenwashing is to promote one eco-friendly aspect of a product, while disregarding other aspects that aren't environmentally friendly. For instance, a product that can be recycled may be advertised as eco-friendly, even if it's not made from sustainable materials or has a high carbon footprint. This type of advertising can be deceptive, as it gives the impression that the product is environmentally friendly when it may not actually be so.

Making False Claims

One way companies greenwash their products is by making inaccurate claims about the product's environmental impact. A product might be advertised as "carbon neutral" even if it is not, which is prohibited in several countries. However, it is challenging to enforce such regulations, particularly in countries with lenient environmental laws.

Using Images of Nature or the Environment

Companies often use pictures of nature or the environment in their advertisements to suggest that their products are environmentally friendly. However, this can be misleading because a product might feature an image of a mountain stream or something similar, even though it contains harmful chemicals that can damage aquatic life.

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Exaggerating the Environmental Benefits

Some companies tend to overstate the environmental advantages of their products. An instance for this would be when a car maker promotes its hybrid vehicle as "100% emissions-free," though the vehicle still emits some amount of emissions. Such marketing can deceive consumers into believing that the product is more environmentally friendly than it actually is.

Using Green Logos or Symbols

Companies may use green logos or symbols to suggest that their products are environment-friendly, but this does not necessarily mean that their products are indeed eco-friendly. It should be noted that the use of such symbols is not regulated, and companies may use them even if their products are not environmentally friendly.

Making Comparisons to Less Eco-Friendly Products

One way companies greenwash is by comparing their product to less eco-friendly alternatives. They might say their product is "greener" than traditional options, even if it is still detrimental to the environment. This type of marketing can be misleading because it suggests the product is environmentally safe, even if it is not.

Focusing on Small Changes

Some companies give the impression of being environmentally friendly by making minor changes to their products or practices, such as using biodegradable packaging. However, they may still use harmful chemicals in their products, which means this type of marketing can be deceptive. It suggests that the company is doing more for the environment than it really is.

Claiming to Be Carbon Neutral

Although some companies say they are carbon neutral by offsetting their emissions, such as through planting trees or investing in renewable energy, this claim could be misleading because it might not consider the entire carbon footprint of the company. This includes emissions from producing and transporting their products.

Using Emotional Appeals

Some companies use emotional appeals in their marketing to create the impression that their products are environmentally friendly. They may include images of animals or children in their advertising to evoke feelings of compassion or responsibility. Although this marketing technique can be effective in persuading consumers to buy the product, it can be misleading if the product is not genuinely eco-friendly.

Takeaway

To sum up, greenwashing refers to a marketing strategy used by companies to present their products or services as more eco-friendly than they truly are. This technique can be deceptive and controlling as it leads people to believe that a company is making greater efforts towards protecting the environment than it actually is.

To make a positive impact on the environment and hold companies accountable for their actions, consumers should be aware of marketing tactics and conduct independent research before making purchases. Demanding transparency and accountability from companies, and supporting those genuinely committed to sustainability, can contribute to a more sustainable future for our planet. Let us become informed and conscious consumers to make a difference.

Look past the greenwashing and compare how companies are really doing via ESG ratings and reports, available at our Company ESG Profiles.

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