How to Spot Greenwashing


Greenwashing, also called “Green Sheen,” involves making an unsubstantiated claim to deceive consumers into believing that a company’s products are environmentally friendly or have a greater positive environmental impact than they actually do. Greenwashing is also a play on the term “Whitewashing,” which means using false information to intentionally hide wrongdoing, error, or an unpleasant situation in an attempt to make it seem less bad than it is.

Greenwashing is generally used in advertising or as a marketing spin in which green public relations, green marketing, and green advertising are used deceptively to persuade the public that an organization’s products, purpose and policies are environmentally friendly.

Greenwashing is an attempt to capitalize on the growing demand for environmentally sound products.

Typical Greenwashing includes:

  • A claim suggesting that a product is green based on a narrow set of attributes without attention to other important environmental issues.
  • There is no proof to support that the claim is true.
  • The statement of being green is vague.
  • The green impact statement is irrelevant.
  • The statement is completely untrue.

Greenwashing may occur when a company attempts to emphasize sustainable aspects of a product to overshadow the company’s involvement in environmentally damaging practices. This is typically performed through the use of environmental imagery and misleading labels.

Greenwashing can also convey a false impression that a company or its products are environmentally conscious or friendly. If a company’s green marketing activities are found to be false, the company may be accused of greenwashing and be hit with penalties, bad press, and reputational damage.

Critics have accused some companies of greenwashing to capitalize on the socially responsible, gain favor with environmental governance, and obtain funds through the investing movement in an attempt to profit from the growing demand for environmentally sound products, whether that means they are more natural, healthier, free of chemicals, recyclable, or less wasteful of our natural resources.

Packaging and advertising should explain the product’s green claims in plain language and readable type in close proximity to the claim. Genuinely green products or businesses back up their claims with facts and details. Products that are actually eco-friendly can benefit from green marketing, which highlights the environmental benefits of the product and company making it. Consider these important points:

  • An environmental marketing claim should specify whether it refers to the product, the packaging, or just a portion of the product or package.
  • A product’s marketing claim should not overstate, directly or by implication, an environmental attribute or benefit.
  • If a product claims a benefit compared with the competition, then the claim should be substantiated.

Businesses using the green platform to communicate its commitment to the environment must consider green statements as they would any other advertising statement. Truth in advertising is important in every marketing message.

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*Southland Data Processing, Inc. (“SDP”) is not a law firm. This article is intended for informational purposes only and should not be relied upon in reaching a conclusion in a particular area of law. Applicability of the legal principles discussed may differ substantially in individual situations. Receipt of this or any other SDP materials does not create an attorney-client relationship. SDP is not responsible for any inadvertent errors that may occur in the publishing process.

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