What is greenwashing?
Greenwashing refers to campaigns and PR activities that put individual products, entire companies or political strategies in a “green” light, thus creating the impression that the players are acting in a particularly environmentally friendly, ethically correct and fair manner.
Companies that engage in greenwashing present a green image in the eyes of buyers and the public and sell the consumer the label “ecologically valuable”. In the case of greenwashed products, however, this external appearance does not correspond to the ecological facts.
In order to be able to do better public relations work and to increase the brand and company value, companies misuse the basic ideas of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR), which are based on the motto “Do good and talk about it” and focus on sustainable business.
Why do companies do greenwashing?
The focus is clearly on economic interests: instead of actually acting sustainably, companies hope to achieve greater profits through greenwashing. There are numerous instruments of greenwashing with which companies hope to gain an advantage:
- Better image: A green product has a better image, as a good conscience is sold along with it.
- Higher price: An ecologically produced product justifies a higher price.
- Weaker regulations: If it is made credible that certain standards are voluntarily adhered to by business, then policymakers may be more “generous” in regulating environmental values.
- Stronger lobbying: Under the guise of sustainable business, companies receive greater political support – even though the same companies are unofficially active against climate protection regulations in the background.
7 sins of greenwashing
A study from 2010 has shown that greenwashing misdemeanours can be classified into 7 sin categories. These are by name:
- Sin of the Hidden Trade-Off
The sin of lazy compromise refers to the emphasis on some environmentally friendly product features in order to disguise other, more important and environmentally harmful product characteristics.
- Sin of No Proof
The sin of unverifiable statements refers to the specification of an environmentally friendly property without the possibility of proof.
- Sin of Vagueness
Unclear, fuzzy or ambiguous wording, which ultimately only confuses the consumer, should be avoided.
- Sin of Irrelevance
Irrelevante Aussagen betonen eine richtige, aber im Kontext nicht wesentliche Produkteigenschaft.
- Sin of Lesser of Two Evils
The highlighting of individual positive product characteristics in order to divert attention from more negative characteristics is obviously a form of misleading.
- Sin of Fibbing
The sin of false statements refers to the indication of environmentally friendly characteristics which are false.
- Sin of Worshiping False Labels
The use of unrecognized fantasy labels leads to even more confusion in the label jungle.
A well-known example of greenwashing is Chiquita. The company has become known for its greenwashing through heavy criticism in the media. Although the company has been talking about its environmentally friendly and fair trade for more than two decades, the plantation employees have repeatedly brought negative things to light: above-average salaries are very low and trade union rights are repeatedly disregarded. The media has also heard that employees who dare to resist such structures are immediately dismissed and do not get a job anywhere in the region.
Tips for the consumer
When buying fresh produce such as fruit and vegetables, preference should be given to local products. The same applies to seasonality: buying out of season leads to long transport routes – and encourages cheating on the sustainability of the products. When buying, the seal of approval should also be taken into account (it must be an official and not freely invented seal of approval).
A critical approach to the advertising messages of companies is essential. One should always question the following? Does this company really do sustainable business, or do the figures in the environmental balance sheet only make the consumer believe that it is behaving sustainably? Is the supplier’s assertion, for example, that it produces tomatoes from purely organic cultivation, really credible?
Ultimately, it is always best if everyone obtains independent information for themselves and form their own opinion.