As awareness of environmental issues continues to gain in mainstream popularity, many businesses are faced with the challenge of appearing green or eco-friendly. The pressure for a large company to appear like it “cares” about the environment can be overwhelming and companies are left struggling to find ways to strengthen their image by being involved with this trend. Often, a business will engage in a “greenwashing” campaign which helps the company appear in a favorable light and show that they are concerned about the environment.
A greenwashed company may advertise that they are environmentally friendly or “clean” and can also employ advertising and product packaging that conveys an image of being eco-friendly. Greenwashed products often appear to be made out of recycled or organic components and greenwashed companies appear to be making strong efforts to help protect the environment and employ green methods and processes into their business structure.
Unfortunately, these greenwashing campaigns are not quite what they claim to be. Often, the companies making these claims have done very little, or even nothing at all, to make an environmental impact. It is quite common to find companies that employ misleading greenwashing techniques in a variety of ways, including out-right lying, being purposely vague about claims, employing hidden tradeoffs and even making claims with no supporting proof. When consumers try to make choices that are friendlier to the environment, greenwashing products often becomes a venue for increased profits for these companies.
Greenwashed products appear on the scope of consumers in a wide variety of ways. For example, a greenwashing campaign might include car manufacturers making no changes to vehicles yet beginning to market the cars as green or eco-friendly. Although no changes have been made to the vehicles, the company has greenwashed the product, fooling consumers into believing it is eco-friendly. Another example of greenwashing campaigns involve businesses that stop sending paper bills or instruction manuals and claim the reason for stopping the practice is environmentally centered, when the goal of the change is in reality just cost savings for the business. Although the company had no intentions of changing the practices for environmental issues, they greenwashed their cost savings campaign so it appeared to have an environmental focus.
Although many claim that greenwashing is just “harmless” marketing spin, they often overlook the fact that consumers are often both the target and victim of these campaigns. Well-meaning consumers make purchases based on products that appear to help the environment and often pay more for these products, even though these greenwashed items can even be more harmful to the environment than their traditional counterparts. Often, these greenwashed products will be made with chemicals or products that are even more hazardous or harmful than their non-greenwashed counterparts. However, due to claims of being green, organic or eco-friendly, consumers unknowingly choose the more harmful "green" products over the safer products which make no such claims.
Greenwashing has become a smokescreen for many companies to hide behind. They will make claims of organic or eco-friendliness, but beneath the surface there is often nothing to back the claims up, or the companies even make flat-out false claims in an attempt to appear “green.” Unfortunately, consumers are usually trusting of companies that make claims to be green, even when the claims are misleading or completely false. While greenwashing may be an example of marketing spin, it is not victimless. The victims are often both the environment and the well-meaning consumers targeted by the campaigns.