Thought Leadership

Greenwashing and its rise: Why we’re worried

Published on
December 11, 2019

Table of Contents

“The danger of […]greenwashing is that businesses and people will feel they are doing the right thing whereas they might be exacerbating the problem and will almost certainly be avoiding the more challenging conversation around consumption levels.” – Trewin Rstorick, Founder of Hubbub, a communications charity

Part of the struggle comes down to the language being used. Words such as ‘sustainable’, ‘ethical’, etc. aren’t binary nor are they consistently defined – causing more confusion and misunderstanding for both brands and the people buying them.

In Ethical Corporation’s piece entitled, “No green sheen can hide truth about Black Friday’s impact on environment”, they highlight the risk of short-term wins under the cloak of ‘eco’, all to support a very unsustainable Christmas sales drive.

What is 'Greenwashing?'

“Where companies appear more sustainable than they are.” – The Wall Street Journal
“The practice of making misleading claims that make a company appear more environmentally or socially conscious than it is.” – Newsweek
“Commercial propaganda that propagates an environmentally virtuous public image – such as ads for oil companies featuring cute wildlife.” – The Guardian

Here’s why we can’t stand for this:

  • “Lives are changed by the things we do and don't buy (and I don't want to buy from anyone involved in that recent Delhi fire, for example).” – Laura, Product Lead
  • It’s hard enough to make choices that have a positive impact, or even less of a negative impact, without brands using vague messages just to look good. Honesty will win me over any day.” – Saad, Marketing
  • “It makes us believe we're doing the right thing when we aren't. People tend to blame greenwashing on companies but distance themselves from the impact it has on their choices and lifestyle.” – Aurore, Partnerships
  • It’s manipulative. Using people’s values to sell more of something which might be doing more harm than good is just lazy and wrong. We need to have honest conversations.” – Emilien, Partnerships
  • “It makes us question *all* sustainability claims. If we can’t trust ‘good’ products, can we trust any? Is the only way to be sustainable zero-consumption?” – Alissa, Operations
  • It perpetuates a disconnect from the true cost of goods. When you see an actual ‘eco-friendly’ item listed at the accurate price that reflects their better practices – it seems too expensive. This is because a cheap, ‘green’ knock-off has cut corners and devalued the market, ruining it for the honest brands trying to do it right.  – Sarah, Marketing

To counter greenwashing, it’s not only important for businesses to demand that their suppliers provide evidence of their processes and impact, but also for shoppers to have access to this to ensure they are making purchases that align with their personal values.

There also has to be a consistent way that we share this so it’s easy-to-digest and yet with layers of information to dive deeper into the points that matter to you.

Provenance Transparency Platform for Supply Chains with Proof Points

To address this, we’ve spent 2019 building out our Transparency Framework – a framework for business to communicate what’s important to them (i.e. vegan, recyclable, organic, living wage or even support of biodiversity conservation or initiatives that empower local communities) and then back up each statement with proof for the customer to see.

But we still think industry-wide standards should be put in place. Supply chains can’t continue to wreak havoc on our planet and shoppers can no longer be naive to marketing spiel.

We all have to demand the information we need to make the right decisions – and vote with our wallets for the rising number of honest businesses (as well as innovative solutions) to cut out the ones who are risking all of our futures.

How can we help prevent your brand from falling prey to ‘woke’-washing? See how brands are championing transparency.

Find eco-conscious partners for your next social campaign

Read our curated list of sustainability-focused social media personalities in beauty and well-being, household and food and drink.