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What is Greenwashing?


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This presentation explains what greenwashing is, its impacts and how to avoid it.

Published in: Business, Education
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What is Greenwashing?

  1. 1. Greenwashing Presented by Challenge Your World 2000 McGill College Ave., Suite 230, Montreal (Quebec) H3A 3H3 CANADA Telephone: (514) 875-3211
  2. 2. Contents 1. The what, who, where, why and when of greenwashing 2. Impact 3. Types of greenwashing 4. What can be done 5. How NOT to greenwash 6. Resources
  3. 3. A note on sources... 1. Enviromedia 2. Terrachoice 3. Futerra
  4. 4. What is greenwashing? • The act of misleading consumers regarding the environmental practices of a company or the environmental benefits of a product or service.* • Generally refers to environmental issues * Widely cited including: Greenpeace & Terrachoice
  5. 5. Who does it? • Companies • Organizations • People
  6. 6. Where is it found? • Global phenomenon • Advertisements, packaging, products, websites, emails, speeches, videos... • “Kids (toys & baby products), cosmetics and cleaning products are the three categories where green claims – and greenwashing – are most common.” Terrachoice, P. i
  7. 7. Why they do it? of surveyed consumers buy green products and services Enviromedia
  8. 8. When: A brief history 1960‟s First becomes an issue with the growing environmental and anti-nuclear movements 1969 Public utilities spend over $300 million on advertising – over 8x expenditure on actual anti-pollution work 1970 The inaugural Earth day 1990 Transnational companies realize that environmental image affects consumer spending habits 1999 „Greenwashing‟ officially enters the English language (Oxford English Dictionary) Corpwatch and Futerra
  9. 9. Impacts of greenwashing • Redirects well-intentioned purchase power • Confuses and misleads the consumer • Makes consumers sceptical of all „green‟ products • Genuinely sustainable companies suffer But... • It does help reinforce the message of being environmentally friendly
  10. 10. One in ten consumers blindly trust labels Enviromedia
  11. 11. 30% of consumers say they can‟t tell if green product claims are true Enviromedia
  12. 12. Types of greenwashing 1. Fluffy language 7. Imaginary friends 2. Green products, 8. No proof dirty company 9. Outright lying 3. Suggestive pictures 10. Hidden trade-offs 4. Irrelevant claims 11. Just not credible / 5. Gobbledygook lesser of 2 evils 6. Best in class? Futerra & Terrachoice
  13. 13. Types of greenwashing What‟s the message? • Vague language and buzz words that don‟t actually mean anything and don‟t have an accompanying explanation. • Examples: o Green o Environmentally friendly o Natural
  14. 14. Types of greenwashing Fluffy Language • Vague language and buzz words that don‟t actually mean anything and don‟t have an accompanying explanation. • • Examples: and buzz Vague language o Green words that don‟t actually o Environmentally friendly mean anything and don‟t o an accompanying haveNatural explanation.
  15. 15. Types of greenwashing And by the way...
  16. 16. Types of greenwashing What‟s the message? e_s_assets/e_s_assets_2008/downloads/bp_sustainability_review_2008.pdf
  17. 17. Types of greenwashing Green products, dirty company • Good products don‟t necessarily Why is only around 5% of BP’s capital mean good investment in alternative energy? processes or Today the vast majority of our returns come from oil and gas and they are likely to continue to do so. company values However, we also invest a significant amount in alternative energy technology compared with our peers and, for us, the key question is which technologies will make the greatest contribution to meeting energy demand while providing BP with strong growth businesses. e_s_assets/e_s_assets_2008/downloads/bp_sustainability_review_2008.pdf
  18. 18. Types of greenwashing What‟s the message?
  19. 19. Types of greenwashing Suggestive pictures Pictures are worth a thousand words, but still need to be justified
  20. 20. Types of greenwashing What‟s the message?
  21. 21. Types of greenwashing Irrelevant claims • A true claim that does not help the consumer to know which products are environmentally All products must be CFC free by law: this is not a superior differentiating factor
  22. 22. Types of greenwashing What‟s the message?
  23. 23. Types of greenwashing “Best in class” • The questionable distinction of being the best in a class of underachievers
  24. 24. Types of greenwashing What‟s the message?
  25. 25. Types of greenwashing Just not credible / lesser of two evils True claims within the product category, but risk distracting the consumer from the greater impacts of the product category
  26. 26. Types of greenwashing What‟s the message? • Using explanations or terms that consumers don‟t understand
  27. 27. Types of greenwashing Gobbledygook Jargon or text that only a scientist could check or understand But at least it has a layperson explanation
  28. 28. ISO 14001 There are many recognized global labels...
  29. 29. Types of greenwashing Imaginary friends • But some companies are using labels or claims that look like 3rd party endorsement that are not well explained.
  30. 30. Types of greenwashing What‟s the message?
  31. 31. Types of greenwashing No proof • Unsupported claims
  32. 32. Types of greenwashing Out-right lying • False claims • Printing certification logos without permission
  33. 33. Types of greenwashing What‟s the message?
  34. 34. Types of greenwashing Hidden trade-offs • Suggesting a product is „green‟ based on an unreasonably narrow set of attributes 10/ethanol-effect-when-alternative-fuels-go-bad
  35. 35. What can be done • International regulation • Third party certification • Consumer awareness • Reporting suspected greenwashing to an overseeing body • Education of advertising producers
  36. 36. How NOT to greenwash • Know the truth about your products and services over the entire lifecycle • Educate any company member that communicates externally • Be clear about claims and back them up with valid third party certifications or publically available evidence • Tell the truth
  37. 37. Resources • Terrachoice Environmental Marketing, “The seven sins of greenwashing”. 2009. <> • Futerra Sustainability Communications, “The Greenwash Guide”. 2008. <> • Enviromedia Social marketing, “Top Line of Findings from 2009 National Green Buying Study”. <> • Greenpeace, <> • Corpwatch, <> • The Co-operative bank, “Ethical consumer report”. 2008. < MER%20REPORT.pdf> • The greenwash report, <> • Ecolabelling ,<>