Greenwashing: what it is and how consumers can see it

More and more products are appearing on supermarket shelves claiming to be ‘sustainable’, ‘carbon neutral’ or ‘plastic free’. And products with such labels can be very tempting – especially as more and more consumers try to reduce their environmental impact.

Research conducted in 16 countries of the world showed that approximately 50% of consumers prefer to buy products with an environmental label. However, only 3% can say that a product is misleadingly marketed as ‘green’.

What does “green washing” mean?

The green wash (Greek for “green washing”) is a marketing tactic in which a product or service is presented as more beneficial to the environment than it is. And many energy companies, banks, retailers and even governments have been accused of green


Although the international community has not settled on a single legal definition, green

washing generally involves environmental claims that are exaggerated, misleading, or simply false—in order to persuade environmentally conscious investors and consumers to buy or support the product in question.

And this tactic is very profitable. According to research by consulting firms M c Kinsey and Nielsen IQ, most consumers say they are willing to pay more for “sustainable” products, while companies that claim to sell green products and services are experiencing disproportionate market growth.

How to detect green washing?

Green washing can take many forms – some more obvious and some less obvious. For example, a company in the technology sector may claim to eliminate its environmental footprint without actually having a comprehensive plan. Or shampoo package product e.g. “sustainable” or “environmentally friendly”.

Sometimes it can be re-emphasised  without informing the rest of the product elements: a “green” garment, for example, may be made from 20% recycled materials, but may be a product of fast fashion. from a plant that significantly burdens the environment.

Why is green washing important?

To avoid the most devastating effects of climate change, scientists say we need to halve greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 and eliminate them by 2050.

Green washing hinders these efforts by allowing companies to continue operating as if nothing happened—potentially maximising their profits as well. According to the UN, greening not only distracts from finding concrete solutions, but also undermines the world’s confidence in developing a credible climate strategy.

At the same time, green washing is both a widespread and growing phenomenon. An EU assessment in 2021 found that 42% of “green claims” by companies operating in clothing, cosmetics or home appliances were untrue or misleading. Green washing incidents in the banking and finance sector will increase by 70% in 2023, according to a report by Zurich-based company Rep Risk.

Legal fight against green washing

At the same time, legal disputes over green washing are growing – and plaintiffs are winning important victories. Last month, a Dutch court ruled that KLM airline’s “Fly Responsibly” campaign misleads consumers, considering that air travel is a significant contributor to carbon dioxide emissions and therefore global warming. Fossil Free, the environmental group that filed the controversial lawsuit, hailed the court’s decision as a “historic victory against green washing by big polluters.”

Advertising regulators are also cracking down on green washing. For example, in the United Kingdom, Ryanair’s advertisements claiming to be the airline with the lowest gas emissions were deemed misleading and therefore banned. The same thing happened with the claims carried by Lipton Iced Tea bottles claiming to be “100% recycled”.

EU’s strategy is tough this year as well. The European Parliament has voted to ban products that claim to be “climate neutral”, “biodegradable”, “eco-friendly” or “natural” without providing comprehensive evidence. without material evidence that it is durable or repairable.

Edited by Giorgos Passas

Source: DW

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