Greenwashing and Greenscamming, Why Consumers Need to Be Aware:

Greenwashing refers to the practice of falsely promoting an organization’s environmental efforts or spending more resources to promote the organization as green than are spent to actually engage in environmentally sound practices. Thus greenwashing is the dissemination of false or deceptive information regarding an organization’s environmental strategies, goals, motivations, and actions. 

Definition of ‘greenwashing’ from The Encyclopedia of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR):  https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-642-28036-8_104

The term “greenwashing” , “. . . coined in 1986 by prominent environmentalist Jay Westerveld in an essay in which he claimed the hotel industry falsely promoted the reuse of towels as part of a broader environmental strategy.” The reality behind this action was to save money on laundry expenses, that was all, yet it looked good to consumers.  Greenwashing has become a hot topic in the realm of combating global warming. It has a similar purpose as white-washing, mainly lies or important facts omitted to make one sector of society appear better than another, or as in this case, to make a product look superior to other market competitors. 

So, what exactly are the parameters that define the term “GREENWASHING”?  How can we tell if certain promoted products are actually ‘greenwashed’. Through hiding the health and safety issues of a product’s facts? Behind the profits in order to sell a product? Is it only the packaging? There are numerous and subtle ways to make a product appear eco-responsible so, we as consumers, have to look beyond the pretty packaging and “green-speak” on the label.

As consumers, we can no longer trust that we are buying ethically produced and marketed products. We need to read labels, check out the companies and not blindly trust in the ads used to sell the products when the ultimate goal is not for our health and safety but rather, how profitable a company becomes in their market share. When finances are involved — it is truly a dog eat dog scenario. Knowledge is our best weapon.

Our main finding leading to our theory contribution is the criticism raised in greenwashing research that the entirely voluntary CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) approach facilitates the diffusion of greenwashing. The voluntary idea of CSR is still prevalent in the CSR literature and appears to be a grey-zone that creates space for misleading ‘green’ communication. . .

. . . According to Furlow (2010), the proliferation of environmental disinformation has become so common and is of such a concern, that media discourse on greenwashing has parallel increased. Several non-governmental organizations (NGOs), such as Greenpeace or TerraChoice, assume today the roles of market monitors or “watchdogs.” In addition, the press expresses a growing concern about causes and consequences of greenwashing (Du, 2015). As a result, consumers are increasingly skeptical about the authenticity of corporate environmental claims (Lyon & Montgomery, 2013) . . . As the public concern over greenwashing has drastically grown in the last two decades, academic research has increased correspondingly, and there is now a substantial body of literature addressing issues related to greenwashing. Indeed, more than 1,315 scholarly articles are currently mentioning the term “greenwashing” or “greenwash”.

See: Gatti, L., Seele, P. & Rademacher, L. Grey zone in – greenwash out. A review of greenwashing research and implications for the voluntary-mandatory transition of CSR. Int J Corporate Soc Responsibility 4, 6 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1186/s40991-019-0044-9 

So, we have watchdogs on the lookout for corporate narratives that greenwash their products, but how effective is that when the general public is being inundated with marketing advertising that speaks louder than the truth. The answer to this is to be vigilant and aware when making purchases for anything from services to products to major purchases like appliances and automobiles.

In August 2021, Earth.Org published an article calling out the top ten companies and corporations responsible for greenwashing their products. This list is far from complete and only touches on the more well known brands and companies involved in greenwashing to promote their products. Nine of Earth.Org top ten include the following: 

  • Volkswagen misled the public by stating low emissions rate from vehicles “fitted with a defective device” when they actually emitted 40 times the allowed limit of nitrogen oxide pollutants.  See: Volkswagen: The scandal explained
  • BP (British Petroleum) changed its name to Beyond Petroleum and installed solar panels on their gas stations to appear more eco-conscious yet more than 96% of its annual budget is on oil and gas. (See: BP greenwashing complaint sets precedent for action on misleading ad campaigns )
  • Recently, ExxonMobil suggested that its experimental algae biofuels could one day reduce transport emissions, while it has no company-wide net zero target.  Its 2025 emission reduction targets do not include the emissions resulting from its products.  See:https://corporate.exxonmobil.com/-/media/Global/Files/energy-and-carbon-summary/Energy-and-Carbon-Summary.pdf
  • The three largest producers of plastic drink containers; Nestle for water, CocaCola as the number one plastic polluter, and PepsiCo are all listed in the 2020 report from Breaking Free From Plastic as the top three plastic pollution producers for three years in a row. Additionally, at a lesser rate, other well known bottled water companies are at fault in contributing to plastic waste by greenwashing in the use of nature scenes as their marketing tool . See: Global Brand Audit Report 2020  
  • Although Ikea was once recognized as a “beacon of a major corporation being sustainable” in June 2020, Ikea was linked to illegal logging in Ukraine. See: ‘Laundering Machine’: Furniture Giant Ikea Implicated in Logging Protected Siberian Forests
  • Fast Fashions from the garment industry was called out on irresponsible and misleading marketing practices. H&M, as only one example, was [called out] by the Norwegian Customer Authority for “misleading” marketing of their Conscious Collection because “the information given regarding sustainability was not sufficient, especially given that the Conscious Collection is advertised as a collection with environmental benefits.” See: See H&M called out for “greenwashing” in its Conscious fashion collection
  • And last but far from the least, Major Banks:  “The past several years have seen major financial institutions talking a big game about combating climate change yet these are more examples of companies exercising greenwashing strategies. JP Morgan, Citibank and Bank of America have issued new “green investment” opportunities. However, a report released last year by the Rainforest Action Network showed that big banks – the ones mentioned above, but also including Wells Fargo, Barclays, Bank of China, HSBC, Goldman Sachs and Deutsche Bank – were still lending enormous sums to the industries that contribute the most to global warming, like fossil fuels and deforestations, while boasting that they’re the leaders of the green transition.”  More on this can be found in the full report:  https://www.bankingonclimatechaos.org/bankingonclimatechange2020/ 

A newly published 2021 report is also available online and maybe a good source to see where your own bank fits into the fight against climate change: https://www.bankingonclimatechaos.org

Greenwashing Is not the only problem: In addition to ‘greenwashing’ there is one more term, of which we must be aware to remain financially safe. It is potentially a far more damaging action by individuals, as well as group entities than greenwashing is in the consumer end of business.   

GREENSCAMMING” is a reference to organizations that ask for your financial support, while professing to be environmentally conscious through misleading language, actions and misrepresentation. This is used primarily by industrial companies and associations, (including non-profits), as well as lobbying groups. Its primary ends is to raise funds used for political, as well as monetary gains. These organizations successfully prey on people in emotionally charged ways, the ultimate goal, influence voters and/or produce monetary profits with misleading information, half-truths and sometimes, outright lies. In this case, no single line of product is involved.

Greenscamming is well defined in Wikipedia under the definition of Greenwashing: 

”. . . Sociologist Charles Harper stresses that it would be very difficult to market a group called “Coalition to Trash the Environment for Profit”. Anti-environment initiatives are therefore often forced to give their front organizations deliberately deceptive names if they want to be successful.”  

Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Greenwashing

Examples of greenscamming as funded by the coal industry include the following: The Center for the Study of Carbon Dioxide and Global Change, the National Environmental Policy Institute, and the Information Council on the Environment  See: Greenwashing for more information on greenscamming.

Greenscamming is the increasingly common practice of giving environmentally friendly names to groups whose agendas have little to do with the welfare of the environment.

It was reported in 1996 that in Riverside County, California, USA, a public relations firm organized Friends of Eagle Mountain on behalf of a mining company that wanted to create the world’s largest landfill in an abandoned iron ore pit. The National Wilderness Institute was formed to roll back wetlands regulation and restrictions in the Endangered Species Act. The Wilderness Impact Research Foundation was a Nevada organization that represented logging and ranching interests. The American Environmental Foundation was considered to be a Florida property-rights group. The Abundant Wildlife Society of North America was backing hunters, loggers and miners.

From Greenscamming | World Problems & Global Issues | The Encyclopedia of World Problems

Is your head spinning yet? It should be. This information is not normally covered by public media unless you happen to come across a good documentary on PBS or a progressive news outlet that doesn’t mind waking people up to the danger we are in through our own, often misguided trust in consumerism.

The information is out there, but you need to dig for it. Most of the data that was found for this article about greenwashing was located in scholarly journals, individual climate organizations, other nonprofits dedicated to reversing global warming, and from dedicated and fully accredited ethical scientists and industry professionals whose voices do not have the backing of a BP, Exxon Mobil, other big oil companies, the automotive industry, the plastic producing polluters or the banks where their money and minds are tied solely to unbelievable profit shares, at the expense of the planet. 

There is so much more that goes into this topic, such as the hidden poisonous chemicals in plastic, which can cause cancer; affect infants and young children with autism and birth defects; and the causation of life long adverse health issues. Personally, I would include the insurance industry as part of the overall problem.

It is a multilayered human problem that we need to correct, yet that is proving to take years, as convincing the majority that there is in fact a problem. No doubt, we all need to reduce our reliance on plastic and if the industry is going to continue to be a big part of the plastic problem, then we need to work together to reduce our dependence on all things plastic.

As with anything that is important to one’s well being and one’s family and friends, please do some research. If research is too daunting, find a trustworthy organization for more information, or check with your local Better Business Bureau if it is a local service or business for which you are needing more information. Ask a trusted friend their opinions. Open dialogue about consumer issues and corporate responsibility. Too much information is much safer than none at all.

Since the majority of plastic or plastic containing products seem to have the largest market share of greenwashing sales pitches, there is a great documentary on YouTube. The video is 1:23:37 long, giving the history of the plastic industry. The video provides an idea of Plastics at the intersection of where it came from — to where we are now — with a vision of where we need to go. We see now that recycling has not worked for many reasons, which will also be pointed out in the video.

We do have options, but we need to work together to make the difference. It will take our time and out of the box thinking to turn this problem around to a sustainable level. We will need to do the real work that the industry is too greedy to help us with. As with anything in a consumer world — look for where, and to whom, the money is going. We have voices, we have buying power, so speak up and chose wisely.

Here is the video:   The Story of Plastic (Full Documentary)

For more information on Greenwashing check out some of the following links: 

The Nine Types of Greenwashing

The Negative Effects of Corporate Greenwashing — Sea Going Green

Greenwashing: what it is and how to spot it — The Ethical Edit

8 brands called out for greenwashing in 2020 | News

Top Five Dumbest Greenwashed ‘Earth Day’ Gimmicks

Protect Yourself From “Green” Scam Artists With These Tips.html

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *