Greenwashing: This term, which was coined in 1986 by environmentalist Jay Westerveld, defines how companies use marketing techniques to make their products appear more environmentally friendly than they truly are (https://link.springer.com/referenceworkentry/10.1007/978-3-642-28036-8_104 ). In turn, it makes it difficult for consumers who are trying to make the most responsible purchase to do so. Whether or not it is done consciously, greenwashing has serious impacts on consumer mindset and the environment.
This deceptive tactic can be used in so many industries- robo investing, toiletries, food items, automobiles, the list goes on. Why? Because companies know they can take advantage of their consumers. A 2021 study found that 78% of Americans are more likely to buy a product that shows it is environmentally friendly, and 64% of people will pay more for that product as well (https://greenprint.eco/greenprint-sustainability-index/). Truly eco-friendly products naturally have higher prices due to more sustainable materials, ethical wages for workers, and more time to create a quality product (https://clarifygreen.com/eco-friendly-products-cost-more/#:~:text=Eco%2Dfriendly%20products%20are%20more%20expensive%20than%20traditional%20products%2C%20right,they%20cost%20more%20to%20produce.&text=Similarly%2C%20if%20they%20notice%20their,making%20them%20the%20most%20money ). Companies are aware of this, and take advantage of the higher prices to increase their profit margins and make more sales. Additionally, knowing that consumers have been increasingly more willing to buy more ethically responsible products, companies are trying to appeal to the audiences without making real efforts to make monumental changes within their brands.
Greenwashing can be difficult to detect; with the marketing industry spending over $250 billion each year, it makes sense that it is tricky to detect truthful packaging from those that are not (https://www.statista.com/statistics/987001/marketing-spending-us/ ). Fortunately, there are some tactics to help debunk the truthfulness of companies. The seven “sins of greenwashing” are commonly used to help detect greenwashing in purchases. They include:
- Hidden trade offs
- No proof
- False labels
- Lesser of two evils
Learn more about how to detect greenwashing in this article by the Green Business Bureau.