Greenwashing: understand what it is and learn to identify it

Sustainability has become more prevalent, but some companies use this to their economic advantage

Discover greenwashing

Have you heard of greenwashing? It is a concept used by companies that claim to support sustainable practices. However, they only seek to gain visibility without carrying out any sustainable actions.

This issue is frequent in the realm of sustainability. Unfortunately, organizations that greenwash will try to promote themselves by using speeches, advertisements, and campaigns with an ecological spin. They often use expressions such as: “we are a green brand” or “we are eco-friendly” without any tangible changes that proves they help the environment.

If you’re interested in this subject and want to understand it better, keep on reading.

What is greenwashing?

Environmentalism and Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) criteria focus on the central factors of measuring sustainability and the social impact of an investment from a company or business. This includes the company’s practices concerning the environment, social practices, corporate governance issues, relationship with shareholders, stakeholders, and even acts of corruption within the corporation.

In an ideal scenario, companies should collect real data, hire environmental experts, and develop an exclusive sector to deal with sustainability within the organization to understand its true impact on the environment. The experts would perform calculations of emissions of greenhouse gases and other negative effects, as well as make viable proposals that could deal with damages on the environment.

However, most brands address environmental issues randomly or without prior study. They believe that a marketing campaign to plant trees or rescue endangered species is enough to promote themselves as environmentally conscious.

Therefore greenwashing is the practice of organizations that pretend to be ‘eco-friendly’, but in fact promote insufficient or poorly designed action. These individualized actions end up being irrelevant within the bigger picture, in which the company generates a much greater negative impact.

Examples of greenwashing

We can observe many examples of greenwashing. For instance, a company can make up the data and interpret it to their benefits. Check out the most common examples below.

No cause and effect relationship

Greenwashing is not always associated with false information. A company can carry out environmentally positive actions. Nevertheless, these actions are negligible once compared to the damages caused by the corporation.

For example, a state-owned oil company emits 60 million tons of greenhouse gases – this is without considering the secondary impacts of the products generated. They then promote media campaigns showing that they finance marine life protection projects. 

On one hand, they are spreading awareness of the protection of these environments. However, are they really repairing nature? Do you realize how it is so disconnected from reality?

Furthermore, the damage caused by their greenhouse gases is not directly related to marine life. Thus, the brand did not develop a serious study and only chose a beautiful cause to generate greater consumer engagement.

No real study of impacts

In other cases, greenwashing is even more serious. Some companies commit environmental crimes and crimes against life. Without due punishment from the courts, they take superficial actions to clear their names.

This example is very common amongst mining companies, some of which have record-breaking environmental accidents. After creating problems, they justify their actions with a sustainability report including photos and proof of actions, but nevertheless, they continue to exploit the soil and destroy the ecosystem of the region.

Regarding carbon and green bond emissions

In order to calculate carbon emissions correctly, it is necessary to follow a global protocol. However, some companies modify data or even forge accounts to claim the company emits zero CO2. This is another example of greenwashing.

Green bonds are issued to raise funds for investments in sustainability projects. They are debt securities, but they can only be used to finance sustainable investments. An example of a green wash is for a meat company to be awarded as eco-friendly. Firstly, excessive cattle breeding is harmful to the environment, not only because it promotes deforestation, but an ox’s flatulence (methane) is 30 times more harmful than CO2. This might sound like a joke, but it’s not.

Additionally, most slaughterhouses buy meat from deforested regions, so these companies cannot get sustainable brand labels. However, a meat company received a green bond, mentioning that it would not pollute or damage the environment. In other words, the market and society rewarded a company with more benefits and interest, simply because the brand said it will not commit a crime. A classic and absurd example of greenwashing.

We can conclude that greenwashing is a common practice for many companies that use empty and inaccurate statements and take advantage of data manipulation and consumers’ lack of curiosity to go after correct information. It is important for society to be aware of this practice and to avoid the products and services of organizations that carry out greenwashing.

Do you know of any companies that carry on that posture? Think about it.

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