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5 Times You’ve Been Greenwashed

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We’re sure you might have come across companies claiming to adopt policies which are eco-friendly or advertisements which scream about products which are organic. And you probably might have considered buying such products to do your bit to save the planet. Well, you have just been ‘greenwashed’.


So, here are a few times brands might have greenwashed you:

1. When companies promise to go ‘water neutral’

Coco-Cola uses 80 billion gallons (290 billion liters) of water. This large water footprint brought the company under fire for its serious mismanagement of water.

So, the brand decided to polish their dirty acts by sticking a label of going ‘water neutral’ on it. By making this statement the brand means that every drop of water consumed will be returned to the planet. So if the company extracts a gallon of fresh water, it must be returned to the source. Well, this, experts claim is unlikely to happen. For a company whose primary raw material is water, it is impossible to go water neutral.

So here is the catch.

As per the net neutrality concept paper of Coca-Cola, the term ‘water neutrality’ largely overlaps and includes water offset, water stewardship and water reduction and reuse. But however, none of these terms might be as attractive as water neutrality for the media, NGOs and consumers. So as long as a concept sounds good, no matter how misleading or impossible it may be, it can be used to falsely attract the people.

If a company truly wanted to be responsible they would simply not make noise about it or publicise. In this case, instead of heavily marketing itself to go water neutral, Coco-Cola could take bold steps like shutting their plants in water-stressed area or invest in watershed projects in such areas.

2. When brands paint their logo all green:

Increasingly, companies have started using the colour green as a whitewash over their black practices. One of them being McDonald’s. In 2009, the fast-food chain decided to paint its golden arches green.  This act of greenwashing was initiated to send across a clear message that the company has gone ‘green’ and used biodiesel fuel instead of oil so as to preserve the natural resources. So here, the burger giant painted their logo green but did not bother to reduce its carbon footprints and the company still uses beef grazed on deforested land in South America.

As per World Watch Institute, 95% of greener products use some sort of greenwashing techniques. But why are companies increasingly painting themselves green? To protect the environment, right? Naah! Over the years, the marketing department of these companies sensed that more and more consumers are conscious of their actions which harm the environment. So, the companies decided why not exploit this fad and make some profit. For example, General Electronic’s green products sold 4 times faster. Greenwashed out of your money!

According to a marketing firm, TerraCoice, the products being labeled as green increased by 73% in 2010. Using the word ‘green’ in taglines and slogans builds a positive brand image, which people associate with a product which is safe. Even though in reality they might not be eco-friendly at all.

3. When beauty product uses words like ‘Organic’ or ‘Anti-animal testing’

Beauty brands like Lush, The Body Shop or Korres, love to market themselves as an ideal brand for eco-beauty by populating their product labels with words like ‘Natural Ingredients’, ‘Organic’, ‘Herbal’ etc. This has become quite normal for the companies today, as there are no specific laws which stop these companies to falsely use these words. That’s the reason approximately 98% of companies, claiming to be natural and organic, are false.

Ideally, for a product to be termed as organic, it needs to contain at least 95% of organic ingredients excluding water. Reality check: Most of the products use merely less than 1% of herbal ingredients, while it mainly consists of water and less desirable chemicals like Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLS), non -renewable petrochemicals, synthetic colours, fragrances, and preservatives.

That’s the story of the so-called organic products. What about the anti-animal testing claims? Well, that too could be called as a hoax. Body Shop, who are completely against animal testing, faced a big blow in 2006 when it was taken over by L’Oreal, a beauty brand which tests their products on animals before being sold to the public. Umm…what about its animal testing ethics?

4. When cigarette companies print lavish magazine ads stating ‘eco-friendly’ smoke

Greenwashing just reached a ridiculous new height when a cigarette company, called American Spirit, started advertising their brand using words like ‘green’ and ‘eco-friendly’. Such advertising gets people thinking that the product is safer have its green. Which is not true. This credibility is achieved not because the cigarettes are safer but because their manufacturing process is eco-friendly as they shifted to using 100% wind energy, they use fewer chemicals and 70% of its sale staff drive hybrid vehicles. Experts warn that such claims can sway many non-smokers to start smoking as they hear the word its green and environment-friendly. Not to mention the increased toll on takes on air quality as more and more smokers blindly fall for the eco-friendly smoke wagon. Greenwashed because of a bad habit!

It is misleading to use words like eco-friendly in a cigarette ad while turning a blind eye to the issue of littering, second hand smoke and its dangerous health hazard. For instance, cigarette butts make up one-third of all collected litter. In fact, they contain certain heavy metals which when leached into waterways end up affecting the aquatic life.

5. When luxury car brands promise fuel-efficient cars

It’s a fact that the generation Y car consumers are more conscious about the environment than the previous generation. As a result, the car companies tailor their ads and campaigns around a green shield, which makes people feel less guilty about their footprints in polluting the world.

For instance, Mercedes Benz misled the public by publishing an ad which claimed low emissions (139grams of Co2 per kilometer) for a range of its E- Class cars. An investigation by the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) it was revealed that out of a range of 24 cars only 2 corresponded with the emission figures. While these 2 were under the E band in the government’s banding system (A-M), some were M band, which emit the highest level of pollution and fuel consumption. Greenwashed for what?

This ad, ASA claims, could mislead the consumers into believing that the whole range corresponds to low emission and not just 2 of them. It has sort of becoming a trend to run half-truth ads, which the companies think, can attract more consumers.

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