GREENWASHING: is it just a deception or is it really dangerous?

It is now well established that the market for eco-sustainable products and services is constantly growing and that consumers’ attention to what is sustainable is increasing exponentially.

Green markets from small niche markets quickly started to grow, becoming extremely attractive.

Companies understood the importance of adapting to this new sensitivity.

They start to adopt new strategies that take into account the socio-environmental impact of company activities.

Often a sustainable approach translates into a greenwashing practice, a pure marketing action to appear eco-friendly in the eyes of the most sensitive consumers.

The temptation is the possibility of obtaining high profits in a short time. In recent years investments for green communication campaigns have skyrocketed.

Unmasking greenwashing practice becomes essential and consumers play a leading role. 

They need to direct their purchases to those companies that believe in and care about true sustainability.


Indicators to unmask a greenwashed campaign

10 indicators  allow the consumer to understand if an advertising campaign is greenwashed (Futerra Sustainability Communication, 2009):

  • FLUFFY LANGUAGE: an ambiguous language is used. Words like “natural”, “green”, “vegan” do not mean that a product has been manufactured in an ethical and sustainable way. Often “vegan” involves the use of synthetic materials that have a major impact on the environment.
  • GREEN PRODUCT vs DIRTY COMPANY: the product is eco-friendly but not the processes used to make it
  • SUGGESTED IMAGE: evocative images regarding the planet associated with polluting products (eg. Flowers coming out of an exhaust pipe)
  • IRRELEVANT CLAIMS: underline a small green feature of your product when everything else is anything but sustainable
  • BEST IN CLASS: declaring oneself better than others when, however, the latter are the worst in the market 
  • JUST NOT CREDIBLE: making a product green that can never be
  • GOBBLEDYGOOK: use of terms / technical information that only experts or scientists can understand
  • IMAGINARY FRIENDS: use artfully constructed certifications by passing them off as made by third parties
  • NO PROOF: what is stated may be true but there is no supporting evidence
  • OUT-RIGHT LYING: completely invented data and claims


How communication should be

Corporate communication, in order not to slip into greenwashing, should be:

  • clear: the message must be easy to understand for the recipients, both in language and in content;
  • accurate and specific: communication must be complete and precise, avoiding vague statements. It is essential to communicate only what green has actually been done or is about to be done.
  • relevant: the information should focus on environmental aspects that are truly significant for the product and not claim false merits
  • consistent: the product characteristics presented must be consistent with the context in which the product is manufactured, distributed and consumed
  • reliable: it is necessary that the environmental information is  verifiable and verified.
  • comparable: the information can offer a basis for a competitive comparison of the product with competitors
  • visible: the information should be easily legible and traceable on the packaging.


The harmful impact of Greenwashing

Greenwashing, in addition to being a deceptive practice, is very harmful, mainly for two reasons.

On the one hand, companies that adopt this behavior hide industrial activities that damage the environment behind a green and sustainable facade.

On the other hand, greenwashing risks having negative effects on the market to which it is aimed.

Some statistics show, for example, that in the US and UK, 70% and 80% of consumers respectively do not have confidence in green advertising .

This affects consumer confidence and the reputation of the company which, if viewed in a negative way, can lead to significant economic damage, especially in the long term.

Commitment to the environment must become an imperative of our time carried out with attention and seriousness.

Earnings as the only goal are no longer sustainable, not only for the environment, but for each of us.

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