Wind turbine in a field with a rainbow
Published May 2021

How to Spot Corporate Greenwashing

Going green has resulted in profitable business for companies around the globe. This is excellent news as it means that brands can do well and do good, but alongside the positive impact corporations are making, there is also the potential to take advantage of consumers’ interest in sustainable solutions. 

Realistically, the term greenwashing has been doing the rounds for at least over a decade. But it’s safe to say that it can be challenging at times to spot corporate greenwashing. Why? Because big corporations spend hundreds of thousands on marketing campaigns to make sure that we believe the message they want us to. 

And what they are confident about is the interest today’s consumer has in sustainable practices. 

According to a recent report curated by Neilsen, 66% of global consumers say that they are willing to pay more for sustainable products. Yes, this is brilliant news, but alongside these results come some scary findings from TerraChoice Environmental Marketing, who found that 98% of green-labelled products are actually greenwashed. 

What is an example of corporate greenwashing?

Suppose you’re not already familiar with the term greenwashing. In that case, it’s the practice of marketing products in a way designed to convince consumers that the product is more environmentally friendly than it actually is. There may be no such thing as a genuinely sustainable consumer product. But some products have less environmental impact than others. Those are the ones most people want to buy.

Greenwashing can be categorised into several types:

1.Environmental Imagery On Packaging: 

Some companies will choose to use nature-focused imagery to capture the consumer’s attention, and ultimately make them believe the packaging is organic and natural. When in truth, genuinely eco-friendly products generally use simpler images and plain packaging.

2. Misleading labels and irrelevant claims

Certain products are labelled “Certified”, “100% organic,”, etc. without any clear information or evidence to prove a statement. These statements tend to be self-declared or made up with no credible approval.

3. Hidden trade-offs

Corporations can put up an act of being environmentally friendly and sustainable but have a very non-environmental friendly trade-off. An example is when clothing companies use “natural” or “recycled” materials while the clothing is actually developed through exploitative conditions. Genuine companies would definitely provide more information on energy, water conditions, greenhouse gas emissions, etc.

What is greenwashing in business?

The Sustainable Development Goals are the global standard for businesses to design, measure, and account for their contribution to sustainable development. Companies that are serious about being social impact will have to expand on their strategy, engagement and impact assessments, and design action plans and sustainable strategies accessible. 

With all of these goals come high expectations and a race to deliver the results that can catch the attention of not just customers but also private stakeholders.

Hence why the crescendo of greenwashing opportunities has arisen. However, in 2021, consumers and decision-makers are not easily fooled. They hold up a magnifying glass to the latest claim, label, and start-up claiming to be the eco-savior post-pandemic.

However, those truly sustainable, green brands will potentially lead us to a brighter future, with their messaging and business strategy. 

Why is greenwashing a social problem?

From “ethical cotton” to “eco-cars” sustainable stories resonate with today’s consumer. Why? Because they want to align themselves with companies that are making a positive impact. There is a huge demand for environmentally friendly companies, but we are still learning what that means to us as individuals. Through a crowded field of content and users have to be careful when uncovering the messages and marketing by brands. 

While advertising regulators do exist, there’s no universally accepted definition of what terms like ‘sustainable’ actually means; resulting in big brands having the freedom to market an item as ‘green’, often at a marked-up price, without adhering to a clear definition of that term.

Greenwashing makes sustainability seem inaccessible, exclusive, and expensive, which needs to be changed for us to move forward as a society and make a more significant impact. 

How can we combat corporate greenwashing?

Education is key. The consumers vote with their pound and having access to as much information as possible, but stylised and categories for different needs, depending on where the customer is on their sustainable journey, is crucial. 

Here at Co-op Energy, we pride ourselves on being a truly green supplier for your home. We can’t control what takes place in other industries, but we do have a responsibility in the energy sector which is why we use community power. Please find out more about our commitment to sustainability, the planet, and people.