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What is greenwashing?

Updated: Jul 18, 2022

Marketing and advertising have a somewhat bad reputation. They are often associated with manipulation, coercion, and lying. However, one form of negative marketing takes the cake: Greenwashing. Greenwashing is a form of marketing in which the audience is convinced to believe false environmental claims to justify a purchase.

Greenwashing is a term based on two elements: communication about environmental practices and environmental performance. Many organizations positively communicate environmental practices but have neglected to partake in positive environmental performances, hence the term greenwashing. Greenwashing is ambiguous because it doesn’t have a strict definition or line to be crossed to be considered greenwashing. However, more organizations are trying to increase the appearance of social corporate responsibility by communicating a positive relationship with the environment whether they have one or not.

There are four typologies when it comes to greenwashing:

1. Silent Brown

Silent brown typology is when organizations have a bad relationship with the environment but do not communicate any information about the environment. Think about a gas station not making any environmental claims. They’re not great for the environment, but they aren’t pretending to be either.

2. Silent Green

Silent green is when organizations have a good beneficial performance with the environment but do not communicate it. These are often local productions that don’t have the means to have a heavy marketing campaign. It’s a shame because we need more companies to lead the way when it comes to green business practices.

3. Vocal Green

Vocal green is when organizations have good environmental practices and good communication about their practices. We love vocal green companies!

4. Greenwashing

Finally, the last typology is greenwashing, when organizations have a bad environmental performance, but communicate a positive performance. Greenwashing can be confusing because of terms that are allowed to be used with no significant claim. Words such as “clean”, “natural”, and “green'' mean almost nothing because there are no regulations on how companies can make those claims. It is important to remain inquisitive and critical of all forms of advertising so you do not become a victim of greenwashing.

This weekend it was released that Game of Thrones star Massie Williams was going to be the Global Sustainability Ambassador for H&M. The ad was met with a lot of criticism for the brand because of their actual performance when it came to sustainably producing clothing. H&M greenwashed their efforts for sustainability by hiring a sustainability ambassador, even though they are still producing unethical and poor material.

Keep an eye out for greenwashing and how large corporations feed on naive audiences.


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