The Many Faces of Greenwashing

You’ll have likely heard of greenwashing, but have you met its children – green rinsing, green labelling, green shifting, green lighting and green crowding?


Well, let us introduce you to them all…

Green Rinsing

Green rinsing is the practice of making insignificant environmental improvements to a product or service and using them to make exaggerated claims about its environmental benefits.

For example, a company might claim that their product is eco-friendly because it uses 10% less plastic, even though the rest of the product’s environmental impact remains unchanged.

McDonald’s engaged in green rinsing in 2019, when it announced that it was replacing plastic straws with paper ones in its UK restaurants as part of its commitment to reducing plastic waste. However, it was later revealed that the paper straws were not recyclable and, in fact, contributed to more waste. McDonald’s made insignificant environmental improvements and used them to make exaggerated claims about its environmental benefits.

Green Labelling

Green labelling is the practice of using vague or misleading language on product labels to create the impression that a product is environmentally friendly. They will use terms such as “natural,” “eco-friendly,” or “green” without providing any specific information about the product’s environmental impact.

In 2013 – yep, this stuff has been going on for a long time – Pampers introduced a line of “eco-friendly” nappies called “Pure” that were marketed as made with “premium cotton” and “plant-based” materials. However, an investigation found that the nappies contained many of the same synthetic materials as regular Pampers nappies and the “plant-based” materials made up less than 1% of the nappies weight.

Green Shifting

Green shifting is the practice of shifting a product’s environmental impact from one area to another to create the impression that the product is environmentally friendly.

For example, a company might claim that their product is environmentally friendly because it is made from recycled materials, even though the production process is highly polluting.

Nestle’s “Eco-Shape” water bottles were marketed as eco-friendly because they used 30% less plastic than the company’s regular water bottles. However, a closer look revealed that the bottles were made from thinner plastic, which resulted in an increase in carbon emissions during production and transport.

Green Lighting

Green lighting is the practice of promoting a product or service as environmentally friendly, even if it has not been proven to be so. They will make claims about their products or services without providing any evidence to support those claims.

In 2007, Volkswagen was criticized for its greenwashing practices after it launched an ad campaign promoting its “clean diesel” cars as environmentally friendly. However, it was later revealed that the company had installed software that allowed the cars to cheat emissions tests, resulting in much higher levels of pollution than advertised.

Green Crowding

Green crowding is the practice of using environmental claims to differentiate a product or service in a crowded marketplace, even if the claims are not supported by evidence.

For example, a company might claim that their product is environmentally friendly because it is made from recycled materials, even if the environmental benefits of using recycled materials are minimal.

H&M’s “Conscious Collection” is a line of clothing made from sustainable materials, such as organic cotton and recycled polyester. However, critics argue that the collection is just a small fraction of the company’s overall product line and is used to distract from the company’s larger environmental impact, including the massive amount of clothing waste generated by fast fashion.

Long Story Short…

Greenwashing is a significant problem in today’s marketplace, and companies need to be held accountable for their environmental claims.

The many forms of greenwashing not only mislead people, but they can also result in fines and other penalties. That’s why it’s important to understand the different forms of greenwashing and how to avoid them.

By understanding the different forms of greenwashing, we can more easily spot them in action and make informed choices to support companies that are genuinely committed to environmental sustainability. It also ensures that your marketing and messaging is genuine, honest and not likely to get you in hot water with the Advertising Standards Authority and the Green Claims Code.

Written by Kayleigh Nicolaou

Co-founder of Kakadu Creative, Kayleigh has worked in the media industry since 2007, managing projects and campaigns for clients ranging from independent high street stores, to music festivals and international brands.
April 15, 2023

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