More and more companies and companies are doing greenwashing. But what does that even mean; green washing? What is behind it and how can you unmask these companies? We present 10 well-known cases of typical greenwashing here and give you tips to better recognize the tricks of marketing.
Definition of "greenwashing" and the seals
Greenwashing means that a product is advertised as sustainable and ecological, even though it is not as sustainable as described above. Companies want to use this to improve their ecological image. They often spend more money on advertising than on production or material.
Garments are then often presented as recycled or sustainable, even if, for example, only 10% of the material consists of recycled fabrics and 90% of the garment does not. After all, the use of organic cotton, for example, does not make clothes sustainable per se.
Due to company seals or seals that hardly carry out any controls, it is often very difficult for consumers to understand whether they have fallen into the greenwashing trap or not. To remedy this, there is now a seal app that explains the various seals.
Another problem is that certain terms are simply freely usable and there are no restrictions. For example the words “sustainable” and “natural” or also “ecological” and “biological”. Only the words "eco" or "organic" must be subject to certain standards. Every company or brand can describe itself as environmentally friendly, sustainable and ecological, even though they are not. With this wording, sustainability is not only a social development, but also becomes a marketing strategy.
Of course, there are also more and more ethical and sustainable companies that not only advertise with it, but also act in a really environmentally friendly way. The best way to find out is to look at the brands' websites for facts and figures about materials, production and working conditions. Anyone who runs their business sustainably usually also relies on transparency. If you are unsure, google the company or brand and the word “sustainability”. There are often independent posts on the companies that reveal more.
So greenwashing means promoting a product for reasons of profit that it is more sustainable than it really is. But when can we start talking about greenwashing? There are certain frameworks and methods by which the phenomenon can be seen.
- If the core business itself is environmentally harmful (e.g. cruises, coal mining, fast fashion)
- more money goes into advertising than is spent on environmental protection (e.g. Krombacher)
- Lobbying is carried out in order to circumvent environmental and nature protection. So influence politics.
- Is advertised with self-evident (e.g. simply comply with laws and regulations and advertise with it)
There are many different methods of doing greenwashing. Here we have worked out the most common ones for you.
- Highlighting features that are environmentally friendly but of little importance in the face of other dirty product attributes. (e.g. the green Bahncard, which advertises green electricity. Long-distance trains now run on 100% green electricity – which is great – but the majority of the rail network, namely local transport, continues to be operated with coal-fired electricity).
- Specification of an environmentally friendly attribute without evidence and use of vague formulations (e.g. natural flavors and green as an environmentally friendly description of a product, even if it is not environmentally friendly and is glossed over with these words without verifiable certification).
- Emphasizing a correct but completely irrelevant product characteristic. (e.g. aerosol cans that are advertised with the imprint “CFC-free”, since this substance has long been banned in Germany).
- Statements of environmentally friendly characteristics that are false (e.g. false seals, such as the "organic certified" seal, although this seal does not officially exist and is therefore not subject to any regulations or controls).
- Products with a green tinge that are still harmful (e.g. glossing over products that are harmful to the environment, such as organic meat).
But why do companies decide to do greenwashing in the first place?
There are definitely advantages for the company to follow the trend towards more sustainable management. Firstly, it allows them to enhance the brand's image. Because in times of Fridays for Future and global warming, sustainable consumption is becoming more and more present. People want to have a clear conscience when consuming and that's exactly what companies want to give them. In addition, this can legitimize a higher price for products and thus increase profits. The willingness of customers to pay increases as soon as they think they are doing something good by buying that product compared to conventional products. The last two advantages relate primarily to political and economic advantages. There are weaker regulations if it is made credible that certain standards are voluntarily complied with. Politicians may react “more generously” to this with certain regulations. They are less strictly controlled and can thus unofficially break or circumvent climate protection regulations.
10 classic examples of greenwashing
Cruises have experienced a real boom in recent years. This type of vacation is becoming more and more popular, especially among older people. But even the young ones like to be taken care of on a cruise. But the floating hotels are powered by heavy fuel oil, and organic waste and faeces are disposed of directly into the ocean. AIDA is therefore trying to advertise with Green Cruising, whereby just one of the 13 AIDA ships is operated with LNG (liquefied natural gas). AIDA wants to create an image for green cruises among consumers. Although LNG emits fewer pollutants, it is extracted via fracking, which is a very questionable method. Likewise, the more sustainable filter systems, for which AIDA promotes more sustainability, is not an innovative, environmentally friendly measure by the company, but is necessary to comply with the limit values.
More information at: T.Online , WDSF
Dolphin Friendly is one of those seals that doesn't keep what it promises. Actually, the seal should stand for the fact that no dolphins are caught or killed when fishing. This is particularly the case with tuna, as tuna are part of the dolphin food chain. The probability of catching a dolphin in a school of tuna is very high. But in reality, thousands of dolphins die every year while fishing, as by-catch and are simply thrown back into the sea afterwards. The seals provide little or no reliable controls. In addition, dolphins are seen as competition in tuna hunting, especially in Japan. The dolphins are therefore driven into shallow bays and killed there en masse.
Even more information: Greenpeace .
Shoes made of ocean plastic. That's the motto of Adidas in cooperation with Parley for the Ocean. It was later found out that the shoes were not made from garbage from the sea. Adidas used plastic waste that was collected on the beaches and in nature for its production. Which is also an important and good step to make products from it. Only then should this be communicated in this way and not advertised to customers as Ocean Plastic. Indeed, it is implied that buying the shoes helped to clear the oceans of garbage, which is clearly not the case here.
Because recycling collected plastic waste from the seas is very time-consuming. The plastic is mixed with sand, gravel and seaweed. The cleaning and subsequent sorting is very complex, time-consuming and, above all, expensive. Thus, ocean plastic is a very popular trap for greenwashing. Adidas responded to the allegations, claiming that by picking up rubbish on the beaches, they prevent rubbish from entering the oceans. That's true, but that doesn't mean it's Ocean Plastic.
You can find more information at GEO .
H&M / BCI
Better Cotton Initiative is a seal from which, among other things, H&M gets its cotton. It is supposed to be sustainable cotton. They want to fight against child labor, slave labor and for fair working conditions on the plantations. However, that doesn't happen.
The documentary "Dirty Cotton" on ZDF documents the working conditions under which people have to work on the cotton plantations, regardless of whether it is organic cotton or conventional cotton. H&M also advertises its Conscious collection with clothes made from recycled materials. In reality, only 0.2-0.6% of the entire collection is recycled. In addition, the working conditions of the fast fashion industry should not be ignored. Even if a top is made of 100% organic cotton, it is far from sustainable if the seamstresses do not also receive a living wage for it.
There is information about this at: time .
Again, it's all about fishing. No sustainable or environmentally friendly fishing is practiced with this logo. The very fact that the MSC allows fisheries to use bottom trawls, which destroy the seabed and all marine life that lives on it, makes the seal unsustainable. Bottom trawls destroy the environment instead of protecting it. The MSC also looks the other way when it comes to overfishing and bycatch. According to the MSC, these are regulated, but whether these regulations are observed is hardly or not at all checked. Recently, however, it seemed that the criticism was heard. Comprehensive reforms were announced.
You can find more information at NDR and German Foundation for Marine Protection .
1 box = save 1 square meter of rainforest. Krombacher donated money to the WWF, which did not use the money for reforestation, but invested it in rangers and equipment in a North African national park. In addition, the brewery spent many times more on marketing than was donated.
You can find more information at the TAZ .
Greenwashing runs through all possible campaigns at Nestle. The company Nestle stands for bad working conditions, exploitation and pollution. Nestle has created a list of the most sustainable companies in the world on their website, on which they have also listed themselves.
They have also formulated targets for reducing their plastic packaging. Again, they only adhere to the given laws on plastic packaging. They formulate their goals vaguely and rely on marketing for environmentally friendly measures, which are formulated so imprecisely that they are far from being an environmentally friendly brand.
More information at: daily news , SZ .
Disposable bottles and large corporations that buy the water sources away from the local population. It's all Coca Cola. Similar to Nestlé, Coca-Cola buys up local water sources in order to fill the water in plastic bottles and sell it afterwards. For example in Lüneburg, where the third store within a city was to be bought for the product "Vio". The residents of the city responded to this application by Coca-Cola with the petition "Our groundwater belongs to us - not Coca-Cola".
But not only that. Coca-Cola (and Nestlé) are among the main causes of plastic waste in the environment. The group now wants to offer plastic bottles made from 25% sea plastic and thus fight against ocean pollution. Since we already know that we have to be careful when using the term marine plastic and that a large part of the plastic waste was caused by the large corporation, these resolutions change little.
More information is available at NDR .
McDonald's does not necessarily stand for sustainability, organic and zero waste. Nevertheless, they advertise with green landscapes, with regionality and with quality meat. They also produce an infinite amount of packaging waste. They still want to be and remain cheap. How does that fit together? Not at all. Even if they make their logo and the presentation of the branches more natural and environmentally friendly, the fast food chain is not yet sustainable.
More information at: spreadtherevolution .
In an advertising campaign by RWE, a giant can be seen trudging through the green landscape and planting wind turbines everywhere. After a short time, wind turbines can be seen everywhere and the giant is looking at the landscape with satisfaction. With this representation, RWE gives the impression of being a green company with vast amounts of renewable energy. At the time of advertising, the company obtained just 2% of its energy from renewable sources. From wind turbines a total of only 0.1%.
at Utopia there is more info.
What can I do now?
If you, as a private individual, do not want to fall for the empty promises of companies, but want to consume really sustainable, fair products, you should do one thing above all: inform yourself. With a short and targeted search, you can actually find out relatively quickly whether greenwashing is being practiced here or whether the products are really fairly traded. In order to keep an overview in the fashion industry, for example, you can look out for various seals.
- The "Transparency Index" informs you about supply chains, production lines and the social and ecological impact of production.
- the "Fair Wear Foundation" control the treatment of factory workers and check whether they receive a living wage and whether they can join unions.
- Certifications such as Bluesign verify the environmental health and safety of textile manufacturing, and Cradle to Cradle Certified are parts that are fully biodegradable and compostable or can be used repeatedly. The "Fair Trade Textiles Standard" also ensures the protection of workers and examines the entire supply chain and the right to join unions.
- When buying organic cotton, you should pay attention to the seals of the "Global Organic Textile Standard" or the "Organic Content Standards". They control the entire supply chain and take a holistic approach.
When buying fruit and vegetables, you can pay attention to the origin of the products. Since the term "regional" does not have a kilometer limit either, it is worth taking a second look at the real origin of the product. You can also make sure that you buy seasonal fruit and vegetables as a priority, as this automatically avoids long transport routes.
Thorough research has another advantage. The more attentive we become as consumers, the more difficult it is for companies to use tricks to present themselves as greener. Since this consumer deception is legally a gray area, you can only take action against it.
Last but not least, it is important to mention again that every step towards sustainable production is a correct and important step. Even if the products are presented as more sustainable than they are, it is still a good start to produce products only partially sustainably rather than have them manufactured entirely conventionally. Nevertheless, the necessary transparency and honesty about the product should not be missing here.