Updated: May 2, 2021
Green-washing → “Green-washing is when a company or organization spends more time and money on marketing themselves as environmentally friendly than on minimizing their environmental impact. It is a deceitful advertising gimmick intended to mislead consumers who prefer to buy goods and services from environmentally conscious brands.”
Eni: In 2020 Eni, an italian multinational oil and gas company, was fined €5 million because in an advertising campaign claimed that the Diesel fuel is “green” and good for the environment (saves fuel and reduces air pollution). The company said it would not use the word “green” to describe motor fuels again.
Mercedes-Benz Blue TEC: In 2016 a class-action lawsuit was filed against the company. The allegation claim was that Mercedes-Benz used emissions-cheating software (defeat devices) to deceptively advertise diesel vehicles as clean and environmentally friendly. The case was later settled.
Tide Purclean: In August 2020 a National Advertising Division inquiry accused the company of representing that the laundry detergent was 100% plant-based when the product was only 75% plant-based. The company agreed to change the plant-based claims that appeared on the product label.
How to spot it & avoid it
Futerra’s 2015 Selling Sustainability Report lists the 10 basic brand marketing tactics that must be avoided.
Fluffy language: the use of words and terms that hold no clear meaning; like eco-friendly.
Green products vs. dirty company: for instance efficient light bulbs that are made in factories that pollute rivers.
Suggestive pictures: Images that give an irrelevant green impression (like flowers blooming from exhaust pipes).
Irrelevant claims: prioritizing a tiny green attribute, when everything else is anti-green.
"Best-in-class" boasts: emphasis that the product is slightly greener than others.
Designations that are just not credible: For instance, the "greening" of a dangerous product to make it seem safe ("eco-friendly" cigarettes).
Gobbledygook: information that only a scientist could check or understand.
Imaginary friends: A label that looks like a third-party endorsement, but is made-up.
No proof: A claim that could be right, but has no evidence.
Outright lies: Fabricated claims or data
The difference between green-washing and green-marketing
Even though the line between the two practices is very thin, green marketing actually protects the environment. A company that uses green-marketing meets the following criteria:
Uses sustainable practices.
Does not use toxic materials or ozone-depleting substances.
The company products are recyclable.
The company products are made by renewable or recycled materials.
Excessive product packaging is avoided.
The company products are designed to be repairable.
It is vital that in our consumerist society we protect the environment. How do we do that though? At first we must do our own part at home; recycle. At the same time, we must support companies that use green-marketing and condemn the ones that green-wash.