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Greenwashing and how to spot it

The more consumers educate themselves on sustainability and demand transparency from companies, the more companies strive to prove they are sustainable and trustworthy. Many companies claim to be sustainable and green, making it difficult for consumers to identify the reliability of these claims. Therefore, we decided to dedicate this week's blog post to greenwashing – one of the alarming issues in a sustainable society.

Greenwashing is a deceptive marketing strategy used by brands to deceive their customers about how their operations, products and/or services affect the environment. Greenwashing occurs when companies try to make themselves or their goods sound more environmentally friendly or environmentally safe than they actually are so that consumers believe they are ethical, sustainable and environmentally friendly.

However, greenwashing is not a new concept. If you've stayed in a hotel before, maybe you know the signs in the bathroom about reusing towels to save the environment? It turned out that this is a profit-saving tactic for hotels rather than an environmental-saving aspect. "Greenwashing" as a term was first introduced 30 years ago in response to this hotel sign.

What falls under Greenwashing? It's about unverified claims and companies' misleading green images to prove that their product is completely natural, environmentally friendly and safe. Companies usually build specific marketing strategies and organize events to show how their company is committed to taking care of the environment.

According to a study conducted by the European Commission, 42 percent of online advertising for green and environmentally friendly products was false or misleading. Design, colors, catchphrases, irrelevant claims and misleading statistics are all strategies companies use to lure consumers into thinking the product is better for the earth than it really is.


But don't be hard on yourself. It's hard to identify true sustainability heroes from fake ones, but it's not impossible! Here are some tips for beginners on how to avoid greenwashing:

1. Details matter

It is important to look for as many details as possible when brands make statements about their environmental friendliness. It is not enough for a brand to say, for example, that something is made of "sustainable fabric". Check which fabric it really is. For example, some fashion brands claim to use vegan leather when in fact they use toxic PVC made from petroleum. They're not lying - it's vegan, but it's not sustainable at all.

2. Take a look at the company's "About" and "Sustainability" pages.

You can learn a lot about what a brand does or doesn't do by diving into their About pages. Again: the more specific the better! Photos, videos, certifications and/or proof of audits are also good things to look out for. If it's a bigger brand, look for a sustainability report detailing their environmental impact and the progress they're making. Are the brand's sustainability measures or goals specific? How do they hold themselves accountable to these goals? How regularly do they post their progress? Have they reached their previous goals? What kind of investment in resources (time and money) are they making to achieve these goals?

3. Ambiguity

Ambiguity is quite often used by companies as a marketing tactic to try to make consumers believe that their brand is green. By using vague claims and words like "all natural" that are so broad that they can be misinterpreted to give an environmentally friendly image of the brand.

4. Hidden tradeoffs

A brand can hide an even bigger issue behind its green curtain – and it's not always strictly environmentally friendly. An example is when fast fashion brands promote separate recycled or sustainable clothing lines, but then fail to disclose that the clothing is developed through exploitative or not so environmentally friendly conditions.

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