Action 121: Be alert to greenwashing

Eco shape bottle NestleDate: 01 May
Action: 121
Cost of taking action: £/$/€ NIL

 

From our guest writer Barbara in Scotland

Corporate greenwashing often means things are not as good for the environment as they might seem

In this article I would like to bring your attention to so-called “greenwashing”.

You may come across this word already but do you know what does it actually mean?

It’s nothing to do with your regular washing and drying it on the grass … !

This is a relatively recent term which was born around dubious claims being made about their eco-credentials by some of the bigger corporations. It is believed this term was first used by Jay Westerveld in 1986 to describe some supposedly eco-friendly practices of the hotel industry. As you can guess, it wasn’t quite true…

Greenwashing is a variation of the word “whitewashing” (in its context as meaning covering something over) but used specifically with regard to environmental matters. Basically, it is any marketing propaganda used by different companies which leads consumers to believe their products and policies are more environmentally friendly than they really are. Unfortunately, it’s often a false impression and nothing to do with the truth.

To explain this let’s have a look at some examples.

Eco shape bottle Nestle

Click for full size image

An “Eco-shape bottle”?

Pictured is one of the most polluting items in the modern word – a single use plastic bottle.

So convenient, so cheap, so easily available, hence one of those products which so widely litter the environment. It is of course now a recognised problem and therefore the leading bottled water manufacturers had to come up with some ideas on how to keep their product on the market.

So they invented the so-called “eco-shape” bottle!

Let’s have a closer look at the advertisement. The most noticeable part, catching our attention straight away, is this nice green coloured background, which suggests the product is eco-friendly. But is it?

Let’s study what it says … “Fashionably thinner” – catchy words which don’t really mean anything in particular. “Eco-shape” – again it gives a very positive impression but what does it actually mean in reality?

And 15% less plastic. Less than what? It’s still plastic so why imply it is eco-friendly?

So can you see it now? A combination of appropriate colours, words and slogans create an overall impression that this product is not harming the environment and gives an excellent excuse to buy it. But unfortunately, it’s still single use plastic and another part of a massive waste pile we are adding to every day.

The moral of this example is … think carefully about what they say!

But it’s not always about adverts, it’s also about all these claims put into words in a very clever and well thought out way, so when heard (for example on the radio news), they stay in our memory marked with a positive label. Nothing suspicious at first glance, and very hard for ordinary people to verify how much is actually true.

For instance, one of the airlines has been claiming recently to have the “lowest carbon emissions in the whole of Europe”. They provided some good looking data and used green backgrounds. Fortunately there are bodies who watch carefully what’s being claimed and identified this this was misleading, after closer investigation it turned out that the airline used data from 2011 to back up its claims, far away from current numbers which due to raised numbers of flights in recent years have significantly increased. In addition, somehow quite a few other well-known airlines were missed from the comparison list, hence the results were not accurate at all. And that’s without considering factors such as the number of seats per plane. Basically, the company extracted the best looking information only and presented itself as the environment friendly one, using whatever suited them best.

 

” … There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics … “

 

So, please try to filter all the advertisements and information you read, as they are not always accurate!

Unfortunately, just because it’s coloured green and has ‘eco’ buzzwords incorporated, it doesn’t mean it’s the truth. Please check that any provided details sound sensible to you and that they describe proper facts; not being empty phrases.

It’s good to see that consumer pressures are forcing more and more companies to need to think about their green credentials and switch to eco friendly, but please try to be mindful of greenwashing when reading their advertisements.

This article has been contributed by
Barbara Wysocka
Insta: @yourwastefreehome