Published: Nov. 27, 2020 By

Greenwashing is a term coined in 1986 by environmentalist Jay Westerveld and implies the process of conveying a false impression or providing misleading information about how a company’s products are produced in an environmentally conscious way in an attempt to capitalize on the growing demand for environmentally sound products. Some examples include when a company says their products are made entirely of recycled materials when it is not entirely accurate or if a company claims each purchase leads to one tree planted when the company isn’t doing exactly that. Greenwashing usually includes exaggerations that mislead customers to think the company is more environmentally conscious than they actually are.

Is this currently regulated?

  • The U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) helps protect consumers by enforcing laws designed to ensure a fair marketplace. Here are some of the current guidelines put in place:
    • Packaging and advertising should explain the product’s green claims in easy-to-understand terms 
    • Environmental marketing claims should specify whether it refers to the product itself or its packaging, or just a portion of either.
    • Marketing claims should now overstate, directly or indirectly, an environmental attribute or benefit.
  • In recent years, Walmart paid $1 million to settle greenwashing claims over misusing the words “compostable” and “biodegradable” on their products.

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How to avoid greenwashing:

Futerra’s 2015 Selling Sustainability report outlines a few basic brand marketing tactics to avoid and be on the lookout for:

  1. Unclear Language: Terms with no clear meaning or implication (i.e. “eco-friendly”)
  2. Suggestive pictures: Images that give an (unjustified) green impression
  3. Irrelevant claims: Heavy emphasis on one small green attribute without mention of how the rest of the company works
  4. NO PROOF: A claim that might be correct, but there is no evidence to back it up.

The Bottom Line

As a consumer, it is important to vote with your dollar and buy sustainably sourced products that have long-lasting durability! However, we must be aware of companies trying to profit off our desire to live a “greener” lifestyle by researching the companies we are supporting and holding them accountable.

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