Along with the surge in global voicing of concerns regarding sustainability comes “greenwashing” – an attempt made by corporations and brands to exploit such sentiment and mislead consumers into buying and using more expensive products that are no better for the environment.
In the short timeline of the last five years, there has been a 71% rise in online searches for sustainable goods globally, as reported by The Economist Intelligence Unit.
Another survey conducted by McKinsey & Co. in 2020 concluded that 66% of all respondents and 75% of millennial respondents consider sustainability when they make a purchase.
Many similar reports and surveys by First Insight, Lending Tree and the likes have drawn congruent conclusions. This corroborated data is only a telltale sign that consumers are truly mindful of their purchases.
To remain competitive in overcrowded markets, companies tend to use buzz words and attention-grabbers such as “organic”, “compostable” and “plant-based”. These claims are oftentimes not backed by any certification and can be categorized as greenwashing.
The use of the term greenwashing dates back to the 1980s. It was coined by environmental activist, Jay Westervelt during his stay at a hotel that requested guests to reuse towels in an attempt to be energy efficient. Westervelt noticed that no other measures had been taken at the property to ‘save the environment’; he believed the hotel was trying to cut costs by not washing towels as regularly and were hiding behind the ‘eco-friendly’ label.
Today, multinational conglomerates such as Coca-cola and Unilver are also guilty of greenwashing.
Now that “greenwashing” has made the headlines long enough for the general public to understand and recognize it, companies have adopted more sophisticated marketing strategies.
Greencrowding can be described as hiding in a group and moving at the speed of the slowest adopter of sustainability policies.
Greenlighting is highlighting a particularly green feature of the company’s operations or products.
Greenshifting is when companies imply that the consumer is at fault and shift the blame on to them.
Greenrinsing is when a company regularly changes its ESG targets before they are achieved.
Greenhushing is when companies consciously make the choice to under-report or hide their green or ESG credentials to avoid scrutiny