[EN] 5 things you should know about greenwashing


In a world increasingly aware of the consequences that climate change can bring to our lives, sustainability is an invaluable currency in the economy. Companies and brands around the world know that a green reputation sells more, but some have opted for the shortest route and have implemented misleading practices that are already known as greenwashing practices.

In this article we tell you 5 things you should know about greenwashing, give you some tools to recognize and avoid these practices, and give you some examples of greenwashing companies.

Greenwashing: what is it?

The greenwashing definition is a set of marketing and communication practices that some companies use to deceive consumers into believing that they are more sustainable and environmentally friendly than they are.

They aim to enhance their reputation, attract environmentally conscious consumers, and take advantage of the growing demand for environmentally friendly products.

Greenwashing is becoming so widespread among companies that it is becoming increasingly important to know what it is, how we can avoid it, and what tools we have at our disposal to defend ourselves against it.

How greenwashing works?

Companies that have flagged greenwashing, use some tactics that have proven to be very effective and are quite common. Fortunately, knowing about them can also help consumers spot them. Here are some of the most popular ones:

  • Green images and symbols. It is common for them to use colors, images, or icons associated with nature to suggest that their products and policies are 'green'.
  • Unspecific keywords. They often use terms such as 'natural', 'sustainable', or 'ecological' in their product descriptions without clearly defining why they use these adjectives.
  • Questionable certifications. They may also create or use environmental certifications that have no real validity or are supported by third parties.
  • Focus on the irrelevant. They tend to compare themselves with other even more polluting products or highlight environmental aspects that are of little importance while hiding others with much more significant negative impacts. In this way, they will always seem more sustainable than they are.

Greenwashing companies: some examples

Over the years we have seen many examples of companies accused of greenwashing to sell us that they were planet-friendly, when in fact they were not.

One well-known example is that of fashion brands (especially fast fashion), which often offer 'sustainable collections' to counteract their image as a mass-produced whose products quickly go out of fashion. But in reality, these collections represent only a small percentage of their catalog and do not address the real environmental problems of their production processes.

We have also seen fast food chains advertise that they were combating plastic pollution by replacing their traditional straws with paper ones, only to find out later that those paper straws were not recyclable either. Or beverage brands advertising a new, more sustainable, and healthier soft drink with a green label, only to find out that it was made up of 6.6% sugar, which is far from healthy.

The list of examples gets longer every day. That is why it is important to learn how to avoid being fooled by greenwashing.

Anti-greenwashing rules

Greenwashing can be subtle and clever, but not undetectable. The best anti-greenwashing rule is to become informed consumers, researching the companies from which we buy products or with which we contract services to make sure that the sustainability policies they tout and those they put into practice are the same.

It is important to observe the transparency of companies. Companies that take care of their impact on the environment expose their processes openly, usually have third-party certifications, or partner with recognized organizations that validate their environmental awareness.

Don't believe 100% the messages about messages that emphasize the 'green' or 'eco' aspect without giving too many details or reviewing the fine print, labels, and documentation of the products we are going to purchase can save us from falling into the traps of greenwashing.

Finally, national regulations are also starting to fight against these practices. Just look at the anti-greenwashing laws that are appearing in the European Union or the United Kingdom.

The laws are also anti-greenwashing

In response to growing concerns about greenwashing, governments around the world are taking steps to protect consumers. The European Union (EU) and the United Kingdom are at the forefront of this effort, implementing strong legislative measures to combat these deceptive tactics.

Within the EU, significant amendments have been made to the Unfair Commercial Practices Directive (2005/29/EC) and the Consumer Rights Directive (2011/83/EU). These amendments align with the ongoing transition to a greener economy and establish a comprehensive framework of obligations for companies promoting their products as green.

In the UK, the framework for tackling deceptive commercial practices, including those pertaining to the environment, was established by the Consumer Protection Act 2015. However, to target the problem of greenwashing more directly, a specialized enforcement unit has been set up. This unit has the specific responsibility of investigating and penalizing companies that do not adhere to the present regulations regarding sustainable advertising.

Bonus track: how to learn more about greenwashing

There are many resources to learn how to detect and avoid companies' greenwashing behaviors. Organizations such as Greenpeace, Environmental Working Group, Global Nature Foundation, OCU, or Zero Waste Europe offer accurate information on companies, products, and sustainable living that you can consult whenever you want.

Greenwashing is a stealthy enemy in the information age. However, with the right tools and insight, we can unmask these practices and make conscious and reasoned consumption decisions. By being informed, we become not only smarter consumers but active advocates for a more (truly) sustainable planet.