Greenwashing Definition and Its 6 Characteristics

Hyundai Motorstudio Senayan Park 2022.08.19
Greenwashing Definition and Its 6 Characteristics

Eco-friendly is the most promising business strategy if you look at the current condition of the earth. This strategy not only opens up new segments for the business, but also gives a positive sentiment for the company.

Nielsen report states that 66% of consumers today are willing to pay more to buy products that have an eco-friendly label. Unfortunately, there is another report that 98% of eco-friendly products were greenwashing.

With such high statistics, what exactly is greenwashing and why should consumers understand this?

What Is Greenwashing?

Greenwashing is the practice of marketing a product or service to make it look more eco-friendly when it pollutes the environment. Simply put, greenwashing is designed to make consumers believe that the company has protected the environment.

From this definition, any greenwashing activities are misleading, or lie, because companies actually do not make any efforts to protect the environment, even behave otherwise.

Due to the increasing practice of greenwashing lately, consumers are now becoming more skeptical of eco-friendly products so they are reluctant to buy sustainable products.

Unfortunately, this skepticism has an impact on companies that actually implement eco-friendly practices for all products and services they offer.

It is possible that greenwashing products do not provide any benefits to nature, and may pollute the environment. Greenwashing is a dangerous and misleading marketing technique, while businesses that apply this method should be held accountable.

Greenwashing Characteristics and Examples

The company may apply a greenwashing strategy according to the types of products and services they are offered. At least, there are some characteristics of greenwashing that you can see.

1. Imagery

This greenwashing is applied through a visual with natural concepts such as pictures of landscapes, animals, leaves, or green in their products. Images like this are often associated with messages from nature.

The display makes consumers believe that the product is eco-friendly, though this is nothing more than a marketing trick.

Example: many car advertisements are set in a green landscape that is eye pleasing but the dashboard is made of PET plastic while the fuel still causes pollution.

2. Clickbait

Greenwashing is misleading, lying, even deceptive. This is an advertising trick that has no true message, even company makes its own certification to support its action. It’s like when a product is labeled as 100% recycled, organic, and certified eco-friendly, but it's not!

Example: a paper manufacturer from Japan named Oji Paper Company claims to use 50% recycled paper in its products, though it does not at all.

3. Irrelevant Claims

Another characteristic of greenwashing is irrelevant claims to its products, like a plastic straw that can be used repeatedly. This claim is irrelevant because plastic products are not categorized as healthy and eco-friendly.

The company wants to get positive sentiment by presenting products that are free of harmful chemicals, though the compounds still present dangers. Their claims do look good on product packaging, but this is useless because any product can make the same claim.

Example: CFCs have been banned because they are harmful to ozone. So, all products that claim to be 'CFC free' are greenwashing.

4. Red Herring

Including the type of greenwashing trick that is widely adopted, red herring occurs when companies make eco-friendly products when what they are doing is actually damaging the environment.

The product may be eco-friendly, even reusable and biodegradable. However, the process of making the product turns out to be damaging and polluting the environment. Another trick, the product may not be eco-friendly but the packaging can be recycled.

The company then focuses on aspects that are eco-friendly points and tries to capitalize it to get positive sentiment from consumers.

Example: organic cigarettes wrapped in recycled packaging still pose a hazard to the environment and health.

5. Vagueness

This is a greenwashing technique to make a product look good for consumers by adding the term of sustainable, but the diction is ambiguous and does not have a clear message. This eco-friendly claim cannot be proven in any form.

The most common trick is to add the term ‘eco-friendly’ to each product. This is clearly ambiguous considering that there are many factors involved in the process of making eco-friendly products. The eco-label cannot be verified and the company cannot prove it when asked.

So, the next time you find an eco-friendly product, find out which part of the product meets the eco-friendly principle.

Example: don't immediately believe in all products that are labeled sustainable, biodegradable, non-toxic, and eco-friendly. Starbucks claims its glass lids are recyclable, but they aren't!

6. Bait and Switch

This greenwashing technique is quite simple, displaying an eco-friendly product to attract consumers' attention. After this bait is eaten, consumers are then presented with all products that are completely unfriendly to the environment.

Eco-friendly products are displayed at an expensive price so consumers buy other products that are not.

Example: a toilet paper company sells an eco-friendly tissue product at a high price that makes it look premium so consumers choose ordinary tissue which is damaging to the environment.