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What is Greenwashing?

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Image Credit: Paul Blenkhorn

You may have heard the term Greenwashing used in regards to products that are being sold under the category of eco products, environmentally friendly or green. But what exactly does it mean?

Greenwashing is a type of marketing that makes products appear more appealing to customers who care about the environment. It can also mean that a company may even do things that are actually harmful to the environment while still claiming to be environmentally friendly. It is also sometimes called a “green sheen”.

For example, a fashion brand could be promoting a range of clothes that are made of a 'sustainable' fabric, even if the rest of their clothing line is damaging to the environment. Maybe the ingredients in a product being described as 'natural', ‘environmentally friendly’ or 'organic', when only a very small percentage of the ingredients can be described that way.

Another way that companies can use greenwashing is by offering carbon offsetting for their products or services, perhaps by offering to plant trees if you purchase their product. This means is that they are still carrying on with practices which are bad for the environment, while attempting to make you feel better about the environmental impact of using their product or service.

Some companies are more subtle; they simply use images of plants, animals and peaceful landscapes to give the impression of naturalness.

Events or companies also greenwash by describing themselves as “carbon neutral”. They are not actually reducing their impact on the environment, just planting more trees which theoretically gobble up the same amount of carbon as they produce.

In October 2021 the UK government announced that it will be introducing a Green Taxonomy which will provide a common framework for what can be defined as environmentally sustainable and therefore helping to tackle greenwashing. It is hoped that this will also have the effect of increasing trust in the claims of companies who genuinely do consider the impact of their businesses on the environment.

If you are interested in some more examples of greenwashing, The Sustainable Agency have some more shocking examples of big name companies and some of the more shameless examples of greenwashing that have occurred in the last few years.

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