What is Greenwashing and How Can Your Brand Avoid It?
Have you ever seen a display with lots of products in brown, natural packaging? They seem to be marketing an all-natural, eco-friendly product at first glance. But, take a closer look, and you discover that their products are wrapped in layers of plastic, full of chemicals, and maybe even single-use! That initial brown packaging drew you in, but now it’s clear that these products aren’t sustainable.
This is greenwashing, and it’s the biggest sham in the eco-friendly industry.
What Actually is Greenwashing?
Okay, so I’ve just touched on what greenwashing is in that introduction, but let’s take a closer look.
In simple terms, greenwashing is when a brand invests money and resources into appearing more environmentally friendly than they actually are. They’re investing in making sure you - the consumer - think that they’re sustainable without investing in actually becoming sustainable. This can be in the form of how they design their packaging (like the example I’ve already mentioned), creating misleading messaging, or running campaigns that look eco-friendly but really aren’t.
Greenwashing is a clever tactic, but it’s undoubtedly a bad one - and definitely ethically wrong!
Brands Guilty of Greenwashing
As being a sustainable brand becomes ever more critical, greenwashing has been cropping up everywhere. Let’s dish the dirt on some of the household name brands that have been found guilty of the crime.
McDonald’s - Their paper straws might look sustainable, but they can’t actually be recycled, making this nothing but a marketing ploy. Pair that with the fact that their cups are still plastic-lined, and we have an obvious example of a brand that is only in it for the money.
H&M - Their recycling scheme is a downright scam to convince consumers that they care about the planet. They ask you to recycle your clothes with them in return for a voucher to buy more clothes (encouraging people to buy more clothes = instantly non-sustainable!). But it would take H&M 12 years to use just 1000 tons of the clothes, and everything else is shipped off to developing countries where it often can’t be used anyway.
Huggies - Huggies have a range of nappies called Pure and Natural, wrapped in green packaging with claims of being made from organic cotton. In reality, there isn’t much that’s pure or natural about these nappies! Only a tiny part of the nappy is made from uncertified organic cotton, they’re still bleached, and they still end up in the landfill. Trying to convince consumers that those nappies are eco-friendly is absolutely ridiculous.
IKEA - IKEA has become well-known for its eco-efforts over the past few years. But they’ve also been guilty of greenwashing. When I visited their shop earlier this year, I was pointing out to my partner how the sustainability labels they’ve added to products were so obvious. They’d added one to their corkboards, for example, because they’re made out of cork, which is a renewable material (I mean, that is in no way unique or surprising!). Their labels then seemed even more ridiculous when we tried to find teabags and realised they were not only unnecessarily wrapped in plastic, but the teabags themselves were very obviously made of plastic. These are IKEA’s own brand, so there is no excuse. There’s also been some controversy over their buy-back scheme, which - similarly to H&M - encourages more shopping by offering IKEA vouchers in return. Eco-friendly? Not at all.
How to Avoid Greenwashing as a Brand
If you’re a brand that’s trying to become more eco-friendly, you must take action to avoid greenwashing. Without the right measures, it can be easy to slip into the world of greenwashing, and that could come back to haunt your brand! So, what can you do?
1. Start by Looking at the Big Picture
If you want to become a sustainable business, you have to look at the big picture, not just one aspect. For example, if you have a moisturiser, then removing harmful chemicals from it is great, but if it’s still in plastic packaging, it’s not a sustainable product. You have to look at every aspect of your product and how it harms the planet and then fix all of those issues before you can label it as sustainable and eco-friendly.
2. Show Proof and Don’t Be Misleading
Just saying that a product is sustainable isn’t good enough; you need solid proof of how it is that doesn’t mislead consumers. To layout this point, let’s take the example of Huggies nappies mentioned earlier. To avoid greenwashing, they should have used certified organic cotton and explained how much of the nappy is made from it (preferably 100%!). They also should have created a nappy that’s biodegradable, free of nasty chemicals like bleach, and isn’t wrapped in plastic. All of these points should be listed clearly and without any exaggeration.
3. The Lesser of Two Evils Isn’t Sustainable
A lot of brands are guilty of swapping out one harmful material for another that is less harmful to the planet but is still harmful. That is undoubtedly greenwashing. For example, a company may have used 25% recycled plastic in their product, but why use plastic at all? A product that is made up of 75% new plastic is by no means eco-friendly. Instead of doing these half-hearted changes, try and find a solution that goes all the way and creates a truly sustainable product.
4. Don’t Mislead With Marketing
Greenwashing is most prevalent in the marketing of products. So, whether you’re typing up a product label or creating a new ad campaign, make sure you’re clear on how to detail the sustainability of your product or brand without crossing the line. This can be tricky when you’re trying to sell something! If you’re worried about getting it wrong, hire a professional to help.
Get Help From an Expert on Sustainable Copywriting
What you write about your products is key to avoiding greenwashing, and I can help ensure you get it right. As a sustainability copywriter for eco-friendly brands, I’m well-versed in the art of selling your eco-friendly efforts without misleading consumers. If you’re interested, find out more about my services or get in touch with me today at firstname.lastname@example.org.