How to recognize greenwashing?

Greenwashing is a marketing technique used by companies and brands to present themselves as environmentally friendly, when in reality they are making minimal or no effort to reduce their impact on the environment. Indeed, aware of the place of ecology in the daily lives of consumers, certain companies compete in ingenuity to deceive consumers and decision-makers. The different forms of greenwashing can thus allow a brand to improve its brand image in order to promote the sale of its products or services. Let's go into more detail about what greenwashing is, what its different forms are and its impact.


Why do companies greenwash?

Companies can have different reasons for greenwashing:


  • give themselves a positive image: by communicating about environmental actions, companies seek to give themselves a positive image and to attract consumers who are sensitive to environmental protection;

  • to respond to consumer demand : consumers are increasingly aware of the environmental impact of the products they buy and are demanding more ecological products. Companies can therefore seek to meet this demand by using greenwashing practices;

  • improve their reputation: companies can seek to improve their reputation with authorities, NGOs or the general public by communicating about environmental actions;

  • face competition: companies can seek to stand out from competition by communicating about environmental actions, even if these actions are minimal or not very significant.

Now let's see how to recognize greenwashing.

What are the different forms of greenwashing?

You now understand the benefits for companies of using greenwashing. But you may now be wondering what forms this marketing practice takes on a daily basis. In reality, there exists different forms of greenwashing :

Misleading advertisements

Businesses can use ads which suggest that they are more environmentally friendly than they really are. For example, a chemical company can promote the image of a green landscape, even though its activities are very polluting.

Misleading labels and packaging

Businesses can use labels or packaging that suggest their products are eco-friendly or environmentally friendly. For example, a household products company may use a label with a green leaf to make its products appear natural, even though they contain harmful chemicals.

Undemanding certifications

Companies can claim to have obtained environmental certifications which do not exist or which are undemanding. For example, a company may claim to have obtained an “ecological” certification issued by an unknown organization not recognized by the competent authorities.

Isolated actions

Companies can highlight isolated gestures to give the impression that they are committed to the environment, when in reality they are only making minimal or insignificant changes. For example, a fast-food company can replace plastic straws with paper straws, but continue to use polystyrene packaging, which is highly polluting.

CSR and greenwashing

CSR (Corporate social responsibility) is an approach that aims to integrate social and environmental concerns into a company's business activities. Its role is to contribute positively to society and the environment, while pursuing economic objectives. However, sometimes CSR is used for greenwashing purposes (CSR washing). For example, when a company communicates its CSR commitments in an exaggerated manner to restore its brand image without a real commitment to sustainability.


What is the impact of greenwashing?

Greenwashing can have negative impacts on several levels, here are some examples :

  • risk of consumer deception : consumers may be misled by misleading environmental claims, which may lead them to purchase products that are not as environmentally friendly as they think;
  • slowing down efforts to reduce environmental impacts: greenwashing can lead to trivialization of environmental commitment, which can slow down efforts to reduce environmental impacts. Companies that use greenwashing can create a confusion on truly sustainable environmental practices, thus making it more difficult to recognize truly responsible practices;
  • consequences for the planet: Greenwashing can also have repercussions for the planet by contributing to environmental degradation. Companies that engage in greenwashing can continue to exploit natural resources, produce waste or emit greenhouse gases without actually reducing their environmental impact.

It is therefore important for companies to respect environmental standards and develop truly sustainable practices to protect the environment and avoid the negative consequences of greenwashing. Consumers also need to be aware of the risks of greenwashing and be able to distinguish truly sustainable practices from deceptive practices.


How to recognize greenwashing: what to remember

Understanding greenwashing means avoiding being misled by companies who seek to present themselves in the best light as being environmentally friendly. The motivations underlying this practice are varied: quest for a positive public image, response to growing user demand for ecological products and services, improving reputation, standing out from the competition, etc. It takes many forms, such as misleading advertising, misleading labels and packaging, the use of undemanding certifications, isolated independent actions, etc. All of these strategies aim to create the illusion of deep environmental engagement. Thus, greenwashing generates negative repercussions by misleading consumers, slowing down efforts to reduce environmental impacts and above all by continuing to degrade planetary well-being. It becomes vital to educate consumers so that they can make informed choices. Knowing how to recognize greenwashing and avoid it means building the foundations of a more sustainable future.

Share on