Climate Action

How to Spot Greenwashing

Uncover the truth about greenwashing, its harm to the climate cause, and tips for spotting misleading environmental claims in marketing.

Greenwashing has been a common term used by environmental activists for decades, but what does it actually mean? Why is it so harmful to the climate movement? Here’s everything you need to know about greenwashing!

What is Greenwashing? 

Greenwashing is a form of misleading marketing where businesses present themselves as more sustainable than they actually are. This devalues the importance of sustainability and causes people to associate it with a scam. Corporations also use greenwashing to avoid scrutiny for their damaging environmental records.  

Greenwashing at its core is a ploy, it can be easily identified with minimal research. An easy way to identify greenwashing is looking at a company’s marketing materials. If a company uses vague language, buzzwords, meaningless labels, or suggestive and misleading imagery, without providing proof of their sustainable initiatives, that company is more than likely greenwashing.  

Examples of Greenwashing 

Greenwashing comes in many forms. Companies that tout “reusable plastics” overlook the fact that they still create plastic waste, which is not sustainable. Additionally, most consumers don’t recycle plastic, so touting plastic as recyclable doesn’t demonstrate sustainable practices. Misleading imagery, like green leaves or nature scenes on packaging, is also an example of greenwashing.  

Issuing vague promises about reaching climate goals with no follow-up reports or data backing is another example of greenwashing. If you can’t find information or proof that a company is engaging in sustainable initiatives, it’s probably greenwashing. After all, if a company is truly doing good, why wouldn’t they want it to be thoroughly documented?  

Fossil fuel companies are common culprits of greenwashing. Most recently, fossil fuel companies have committed to investing in carbon capture in an attempt to appear carbon neutral. However, carbon capture can be used to extract oil more easily and it does not dramatically reduce the emissions of a fossil fuel company.  

Identifying Corporate Sustainability 

Plenty of companies are engaging in genuine sustainable efforts, not greenwashing. One useful way to find out which companies are doing good is checking out that company’s website, specifically their sustainability reports – but how do you know sustainability reports are accurate?  

According to Harvard Law’s findings, sustainability reports in most industries are not highly rated in terms of data quality and transparency. While sustainability reports are more useful than marketing campaigns, they still have room for improvement. Stronger government regulation and oversight of sustainability reports would help ensure that companies are as transparent as possible. With legislation like the Inflation Reduction Act, there’s ample evidence that this kind of regulation is closer than we think.