Exhausted Trends: Greenwashing

What is greenwashing?

Greenwashing works by using resourceful marketing to make a brand or product seem more eco-friendly or ethical than it truly is.

A gloved hand holds four eco labelled plastic cups that were found on the ground.
A gloved hand holds four eco labelled plastic cups that were found on the ground.
Photo by Brian Yurasits on Unsplash

When it trends

The phrase greenwashing has been around since at least the nineties, but has had a resurgence of popularity this year. According to Google Trends, the search term greenwashing spiked three times in 2020. These surges generally corresponded with news outlets covering cases of greenwashing, like Ryanair’s February PR disaster or the feel good stories that tried to paint the coronavirus lockdowns as an environmental godsend.

Greenwashing in action

It isn’t always the easiest to pin-point greenwashing. Sometimes it’s as small as a wording choice or as big as a brand announcing a new sustainable line, which draws into question the rest of their lines.

Tide’s ad for their purclean line. The product in front of greenery with the text: now EPA certified safer choice certified.
Tide’s ad for their purclean line. The product in front of greenery with the text: now EPA certified safer choice certified.
Credit: Tide

Greenwashing in retail

For a few months while in college I worked for H&M. Despite their excessive use of plastic bags, I thought they were a relatively eco-conscious brand. They had fabric donation bins at every cashpoint and their own Conscious line that I gawked at every shift. In recent years, I’ve been nagged by this fear that they weren’t as conscious as I had believed. As I learned more about greenwashing and how sneaky it can be, I began to wonder if H&M actually doing enough, or whether they’re just using clever marketing?

Interior of a retail space with light hardwood flooring, a clothing rack, and a table with accessories.
Interior of a retail space with light hardwood flooring, a clothing rack, and a table with accessories.
Photo by Ashim D’Silva on Unsplash

Conclusion — Part i

Of course, H&M is not the only brand to do this. And neither are the other companies mentioned in this piece. Many of the brands that do practice this marketing ploy just don’t happen to get the same media coverage. This is an epidemic that prays on our hopes and dreams for a future where global warming was just a fever dream of the early 2000’s.

The Solution — Part ii

Unfortunately, much like trying to solve global warming itself, there is no one solution; instead, it’s a series of habits to adopt.

  • Think critically. it’s easy to get sucked into ads with feel good imagery. But, if they’re promoting something that seems too good to be true — it probably is. Kathryn Kellogg has published this article with real adverts to help train your eyes to pick out greenwashed ads.
  • Research. Understand common terms that have no real meaning. Such phrases like sustainably sourced, natural, non-toxic, and organic aren’t regulated and can be used without basis.
  • Check out the packaging. If a product claims to be great for the environment but uses heaps of plastic, skip it.

🌎 🌱 Image credit: Alice Butenko (@alivka)

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store