Written by: Libby Kennedy
In a world of metal straws, keep cups and electric cars, everyone is on the hunt for the most eco-friendly products to help reduce their environmental impact. Many corporate companies have noticed this and are now advertising to this new green-minded demographic. Unfortunately, it is very common to see a discrepancy between the green claims advertised by a company and its actual environmental performance, this is a phenomenon known as greenwashing³.
The use of greenwashing is so wide-spread that Guy Pearse⁵ filled an entire book with examples and mentioned that there was much he did not cover. Businesses that may be guilty of this include car brands, beer companies, coffee brands, grocery stores and many more. Toyota used greenwashing when they released an advertising campaign for the hybrid Prius showing mother nature driving the car while going about her daily life. This created a green brand image for Toyota despite the fact that mother nature would definitely be walking or cycling and not driving⁵. There are also many other ways for companies to come across as eco-friendly, some more subtle than others, such as, heavy use of the colour green in branding or by creating their own environmental seal of approval that has no significance due to a lack of regulation surrounding the matter⁴.
A less subtle example is pictured above, with a billboard from Coke stating that ‘this billboard absorbs air pollution.’⁵ Although, this may be true, in order for Coke to offset its carbon missions it would need a billboard that is as long as Manhattan and over 8 times as tall as the Empire State Building⁵.
On top of the general dishonesty of greenwashing, it is also problematic as it creates confusion in the green marketing space¹. This results in consumers becoming skeptical of other, more genuine, eco-friendly brands. This skepticism leads to an overall decrease of green purchases by consumers¹. Thankfully, greenwashing does not guarantee the success of a company and consumers are more impressed when businesses show true dedication to environmental issues².
Despite the negative effects of greenwashing, the overall awareness of eco-friendly living has increased because of it⁴. This awareness will only be beneficial if it is acted on correctly. To better our chances at this, we need to increase the awareness of greenwashing and eventually remove it from the marketing space entirely. Consumers can contribute to this by spending their money in the right places⁵. By shopping with small local businesses not only would we be benefiting the environment by reducing overall emissions we would no longer be funding the big companies covered in greenwash. Governmental pressure may also be helpful especially if it involves the regulation of green advertising³.
In a space full of greenwashed advertisements extra effort is required to research and uncover which companies are actually making environmental changes. Without this knowledge, it is easy to get stuck believing we are making a difference with the products we purchase even when this is not the case⁴. Ideally, we will reach a time where green marketing is reliable and transparent but for now, greenwashing remains prevalent in the marketing space. At this time we must remain aware and spend our money wisely whilst informing others about the abundance of greenwashed advertising we see on a regular basis.
1. Chen, Y., Huang, A., Wang, T., & Chen, Y. (2018). Greenwash and green purchase behaviour: The mediation of green brand image and green brand loyalty. Total Quality Management & Business Excellence, 31 (1-2), 194-209.
2. De Jong, D. T. M., Harkink, M. K., & Barth, S. (2017). Making green stuff? Effects of corporate greenwashing on consumers. Journal of Business and Technical Communication, 32 (1), 77-112.
3. De Jong, D. T. M., Huluba, G., & Beldad, D. A. (2019). Different shades of greenwashing: Consumers’ reactions to environmental lies, half-lies, and organizations taking credit for following legal obligations. Journal of Business and Technical Communication, 34 (1), 38-76.
4. Maushart, M., Snaije, M. (2017). Greenwashing: The good, the bad, the ugly. International Young Naturefriends. http://www.ivnf.org/2017/12/greenwashing-good-bad-ugly
5. Pearse, G. (2012) Greenwash: Big brands and carbon scams. Schwartz Publishing Pty.