Spoiler: you probably have.
EVERYWHERE YOU LOOK
‘Eco-lingo’ runs rampant throughout advertisement campaigns, hiding unsustainable business practices from customers. This deceptive practice is known as greenwashing, and chances are you’ve been a victim of it.
'CONSCIOUSLY CREATED', 'SUSTAINABLY-MINDED', 'ECO-FRIENDLY'
Sound familiar? If you’ve seen this kind of wording but can’t find any evidence to support the claims, you’ve likely witnessed greenwashing in action. Phrases such as these get thrown about a lot, often to hide the damaging reality of a business’s environmental impact - and it’s a technique that’s gone completely viral.
GOOD INTENTIONS GONE AWRY?
A 2015 report published by Neilsen indicated that a massive 70% of us are willing to pay more to consume eco-friendly goods. Awesome statistic, right? Unfortunately, it makes us easy targets for greenwashing. Because of this high demand for planet-friendly products, companies are falling over themselves to provide them … even if it's all just an illusion. Greenwashing is misleading and harmful but, as Ashley Gill, Director of Standards at Textile Exchange, points out, it's not always malicious. This type of fraud sometimes stems from a lack of education. "I think [greenwashing] is a lag between these brands knowing what's expected of them and knowing what they need to do about it."
AN APPETITE FOR DESTRUCTION
Many organisations spend way more money marketing themselves as environmentally friendly than they do working to minimise their actual impact. Oil and gas companies, for example, often find themselves in hot water for making unsubstantiated claims, or for featuring glossy images of tree-planting initiatives and coral reefs on their brochures (landmarks often under threat due to mining). It seems they either don't learn, or don’t care, about how misleading and harmful their advertising is.
COCA COLA YOU SNEAKY ****
Recently, environmental organisation Earth Island Institute filed a lawsuit against Coca-Cola for falsely advertising that it was sustainable and environmentally friendly, despite being one of the largest plastic polluters in the world. A single look at their website showcased advertising campaigns riddled with greenwashing - think technicolour claims implying that our planet and people matter, or "investing in sustainable packaging platforms to reduce our carbon footprint". Ironic, considering the company ranked number one globally as the biggest plastic polluter … three years running.
BE ALERT (AND ALARMED)
What greenwashing often boils down to is a lack of understanding around labels, certifications and eco-lingo. We place a lot of faith in what we see advertised, hoping that it’s been vetted by consumer-watch dogs (or the brand itself). However most of the time companies are only called out on greenwashing once the advertisement has done its damage, meaning it’s up to us to stay alert and identify this shady behaviour ourselves. What to look out for? We’ve got a checklist on the way ...
DID YOU KNOW?
The term ‘greenwashing’ was first coined way back in 1986. In an essay exploring a Fiji-based hotel’s towel reuse marketing, prominent environmentalist Jay Westervelt discovered that the hotel was falsely labelling themselves as environmentally friendly. While encouraging vacationers to help protect the ocean through towel reuse, the hotel was actively clearing more land nearby to expand their hotel. He labelled the deceit “greenwashing”, and we’ve been using the word ever since.