The real face of Greenwashing
Updated: Sep 25, 2022
What is Greenwashing?
A straightforward, short question, yet hard to answer.
There are so many ways of interpreting this concept. Officially the International Standard Organization (ISO) defines Greenwashing as “the act of misleading consumers regarding the environmental practices of a company (firm-level greenwashing) or the environmental benefits of a product or service (product-level greenwashing).
We need to differentiate Greenwashing with some other related terminology:
Woke-washing: The act of the firm claims to be actively working to promote social goals such as diversity and inclusiveness, equity, and human rights, while there is no proof to show any significant change in the firm's activities.
Greenwishing: This happens when the story the company tells is running way ahead of the fact. In other words, it means companies publish a solid commitment to change but again are unable to prove or incapable of changing due to non-existent technology.
ISO also categorized Greenwashing into four types:
Category 1: False statements in advertising that lack proof or that are demonstrably false about a product, service, or the firm’s overall environmental performance
Category 2: Misleading statements in advertising that are vague or that do not necessarily include factual assertions that can be verified or proven false but that create a misleading impression of positive environmental performance about a product, service, or firm.
Category 3: False symbolic communications: use of a symbol on a product, service, or the firm itself that is demonstrably false or lacks of proof.
Category 4: Misleading symbolic communication: use of a symbol in association with a product, service, or the firm itself that creates a misleading impression of positive environmental performance.
In reality, Greenwashing has many faces.
The Hidden trade-off: happens when companies suggest a product is “green” based solely on one single environmental factor but ignore others, which may be even more critical ecological attributes. For instance, paper companies show off their recycled content without attention to energy & water consumption or emissions.
The No proof: committed when there is no easily accessible evidence or certification to support the firm’s environmental claims.
The Vagueness: when a company claims something that is so poorly defined which highly likely to make consumers misunderstand. A typical example is the sign of recycling.
The Irrelevance & misdirection: committed when a company makes a claim that may be true but irrelevant or unimportant to distract consumers thinking and make themself look environmentally friendly.
The Lesser of Two Evils: happens when the environmental claim is accurate within a narrow scope, but there are more considerable negative impacts as a whole.
The Fibbing: simply mean a company makes a false claim
The Good intention - gone wrong: committed when a company tries hard to stick their product environmental performance to an excellent non-related claim.
How to avoid Greenwashing - the roles of stakeholders?
Every stakeholder has their own role in minimizing Greenwashing. Most importantly, it is the power of demand for clearer, more truthful, more accurate, and more transparent information. Companies need firstly set up science-based transition pathways, including timelines, milestones, actions, and targets; secondly, prepare reliable data and regularly update stakeholders.
ISO 14024 & ISO 14021 & ISO 14025