Updated: Feb 21
Green Washing is a term that is now often associated with enterprises that ostensibly attempts to go ‘sustainable’ simply for branding and customer acquisition purposes. The fundamental problem with this veil is that it is hard to identify and thereby prevents consuming consciously. So in this week’s ‘Sustainable Stake’, we will look at one of the leading tools that is used to misguide and mislead customers into switching to products that are marketed as sustainable.
It was Jay Westerveld, an environmentalist in the 20thcentury, who coined the term ‘Green Washing’ to describe the whole marketing ploy where organizations spend more resources to advertise that they are green than direct the necessary effort and resources towards actually making their products and processes green. In a 1986 essay, he observed that the hospitality industry, particularly beach hotels, falsely claimed that they reused towels in their venture to becoming more environmentally responsible by protecting local reefs, when in actuality, it was nothing but a cost cutting ruse; while also simultaneously trying to extend its core base into the seas. (Orange and Cogen, 2010).
And so, in this era where priority should be placed on environmentally sound processes and products, firms are increasingly marketing their products in a particular way to tacitly hint towards being “natural”, “Eco-friendly”, and/or “sustainable” which is merely symbolic, and not backed by any substantive actions to corroborate their claims or selling points. While it may cash-strap the pockets of capitalistic tycoons to toot this horn along the road, it is costly to the environment in the long run. (Obviously!). But what is not obvious is that if there aren’t adequate measures in place that consumers can fall back onto to check the credibility of these claims, the world may take a turn for the worst a lot sooner than expected. Unsurprisingly, this is prevalent especially in the fashion industry. Brands are increasingly use green buzzwords like “organic” and “vegan” without any substantive proof and often vaguely presented. It is really an insidious ruse of branding to influence consumers ‘feel’ better about their consumption choices.
While green washing is prevalent, it is not to be misconstrued that all firms partake in such a cunning and debilitating tactic. There are some brands that truly offer environmentally-friendly products. In other words, green washing should not be confused with green marketing. Considering how consumers are finding it increasingly difficult to tell apart companies that genuinely dedicates resources towards sustainability and those that simply uses a green veil to conceal their true motives, here are a few things that can be looked at to confirm that an organization is not green washing
Although the regulation for green washing is quite limited, certifications like ‘Global Organic Textile Standard’ (GOTS) and ‘Fair trade certifications’ that are universally recognized helps add credibility to the claims made by the firms. Ensure that these certifications are legitimate as there is the possibility that firms can randomly fabricate certifications to back their claims. Emacity is in the frontlines to obtaining such certifications to credibly make claims about sustainability. Even though obtaining these certifications have always imposed a significant financial burden on us, we have never compromised our core competency to become and manifest sustainability in our processes and products. Infact we seel our T-shirts and masks with organic cotton that is GOTS certified coupled with the ‘Fair trade certification’ for our working conditions.
While this is once again something that can be misconstrued by a mass substrata of the population whose sole objective is to critique, efforts made towards being more conscious and sustainable for ones’ actions should not be diminished. For example, even though Patagonia, a brand that caters towards clothing for outdoor activities, has explicitly accepted that they are not ‘green’ because of the use of petroleum based constituents in some of its products, its transparency does not impede the consumer from making an informed choice. However, this company is also known to have made great strides towards in their processes by
- Funding environmental activism at the grass roots level
- R&D for the extermination of fossil fuels for the production of their products altogether, primarily because it understands that it can appeal towards a greater audience if stopped using such constituents in its production process
While many may argue that this cannot explicitly help associate a particular brand to being green, the idea that I am trying to argue is that the level of transparency in their production processes, their products and their motives can be perceived as green.
Often times; people confuse between several characteristics of greenwashing with green marketing; thereby rendering the possibility that firms that are actually green be misconstrued as firms that are green washing. This can be primarily due to overuse of certain buzzwords that is often associated with green washing firms. These buzzwords as mentioned above can include natural, organic, eco-friendly, green, sustainable, 100% biodegradable; most of which, doesn’t mean anything unless certified ( i.e. organic – can be certified to maintain credibility).
Another indicator that an organization is pursuing green marketing rather green washing is when their processes intuitively makes sense. If the very nature of the product is bad for the environment, then claiming sustainable rights should be off the table. Also, green marketing firms’ efforts will seem pretty genuine in their efforts to ACTUALLY help the environment rather than stack up their profits. At Emacity, we have taken various options that have actually reduced our margins just because the lost revenue contributes towards greater than ourselves. We are Emacity believe that we can be the change that spurs the necessary shift to being conscious and informed about every action that we take.
Well that’s it for this week’s edition of ‘Sustainable Stake’. If you found this article interesting then like this article and share this article to your friends and family. Also, let us know what you think about this article in the comments section and until next time, Live Green, Live Emacity.