Greenwashing definition – What is greenwashing?

What is greenwashing? What are the most typical examples of greenwashing? A brief article to help you not be greenwashed.

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Definition of greenwashing

Greenwashing is a communication and marketing strategy adopted by companies or other organizations. It consists in putting forward ecological arguments in order to forge an ecologically responsible image among the public. Nevertheless, the reality of the facts does not correspond, or corresponds insufficiently, to the content of the messages shared.

Formed by the union of the words green and brainwashing, this term was created in the early 1990s by NGOs eager to expose environmentally harmful practices of big industrial groups.

In 2000s, when companies started realizing that consumers cared about the impacts of their activities, it started becoming popular. Greenwashing generates doubts and skepticism that are harmful to structures that are effectively engaged in CSR practices and sustainable development approaches.

Examples of greenwashing done by companies

The “zero emissions cars”

Virtually every automaker praises the environmental bravery of its electric, hybrid, or particularly fuel-efficient model in terms of greenhouse gas emissions. These companies “forget” to report the (rarely green) origin of the electricity that recharges the batteries, the problems of recycling the very polluting lithium-ion batteries and there are even scandals of cheating on pollution tests and other “improved” figures and data.

“Clean energies”

All the major world energy players communicate their voluntary intentions of developing their renewable energy grids. Nonetheless, the reality of the facts is that many take opposite positions. During their processes of researching and getting investment, they choose to support and promote energies based on fossil fuels and nuclear power.

The green computing or “green IT”

New technologies in general and IT in particular, are a major ally of the environment. They allow saving paper, reducing CO2 emissions by allowing online and remote work, etc. Therefore, many tech companies announce technology as being the planet’s holy grail which is a bit greenwashing. Why? Because tech components make up the tech devices. And these components are made of rare Earth minerals whose exploration (by mining activities) is very ecologically harmful.

The U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) Green Guidelines

The green guides from FTC aim to guide companies on their environmental marketing principles and techniques. Its purpose is to help companies not to mislead customers and avoid that FTC takes actions against them.  It asks for substantial claims for companies and that they take action on targeted issues.

 

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