Greenwashing – how it impacts us

by | 28 Feb 2022

Greenwashing – how it impacts us

We’ve probably all seen or heard the term ‘greenwashing’ as it’s been popping up all over the place for the last few years, but we may not really understand what it means or how it can impact us on a daily basis. The topic of greenwashing itself is huge, spanning so many areas and impacting us in so many ways that it can’t possibly be covered in one blog post.

In basic terms greenwashing is where companies or groups or influencers use advertising and public messaging to try to ‘appear’ to be environmentally friendly, sustainable and green, in many cases trying to appear ‘greener’ than they actually are.

As we start to understand what greenwashing is we begin to realise how rife it has become in our daily lives, how hard it can sometimes be to spot, how far reaching it is within our lives, and how easy it is for companies to push their greenwashing agendas and ‘trick’ us into thinking they are greener than they really are so we continue buying their products and services.

Companies, groups, and influencers have a real financial incentive to appear sustainable and socially conscious so we spend our money with them, resulting in an increasing number of greenwashing agendas which ultimately makes it much harder for us as the end consumer to navigate our way through all the bullshit and really be able to identify the greenest options.

As more of us start to pick up on the greenwashing we are being sold everyday we will get better at identifying it, questioning it, and challenging it. In the meantime you will be happy to hear that environmental activists are helping us cut through the all the bullshit and greenwashing agendas by continuing to challenge every single thing they see to be greenwashing.

The UK’s Advertising Standards Agency (ASA) has recently pulled a TV advert from Innocent Drinks after it was found to be misleading. Environmental activists argued that its environmental claims were misleading and the ASA agreed, ruling that ‘Many consumers would interpret the overall presentation of the ad to mean that purchasing innocent products was a choice that would have had a positive environmental impact’.

Just to give you a bit of perspective here, Innocent Drinks is wholly owned by Coca-Cola Company who manufacture 32,000 plastic bottles each hour (yes each hour!) and have been named by Greenpeace as the world’s largest corporate contributor to plastic pollution for 3 consecutive years. The Innocent Drinks ad that was banned by ASA sang about ‘fixing the planet’ which is a far less subtle example of greenwashing but if you’re not looking for the greenwashing in everything it is very easy to miss it.

The greenwashing around packaging that we are exposed to everyday infuriates me! Companies ‘proudly’ informing us that their single use packaging is ‘widely recycled’ so that we as consumers feel better about purchasing the product as ‘it’s recyclable’ is greenwashing.

Research has shown that if a company simply changes their packaging to look greener or more natural, or claims it is made up of a percentage of recycled materials then many consumers will be more likely to buy the product thinking it is a more environmentally friendly option, and they will be charged more for exactly the same product that is in no way greener.

Sadly with our current infrastructure this ‘widely recyclable’ label is more often than not complete nonsense. If you are lucky enough to live in an area of the UK which has one of the few state of the art recycling facilities then some of the plastic and ‘widely recyclable’ waste that you diligently wash and pop in the recycling bin for collection each week may actually end up being recycled.

In reality the majority of waste we send off each week for recycling isn’t actually recycled. For example, it is estimated that less than 10% of plastic in the UK is actually recycled. Less than 10%! Where does the other 90% end up you may ask? I’ll be looking into plastic recycling properly in a future blog.

As end consumers we are completely removed from the manufacturing or production processes of so many of the products and services we buy and therefore have very little understanding of how everything works. We live in a disposable and linear economy of seemingly endless consumption and as a result it is very easy to be taken in and duped by greenwashing.

We are bombarded by greenwashing every day, sometimes it is fairly obvious, but a lot of the time it is pretty subtle, and just like with advertising it affects our purchasing choices and decisions on a subconscious level.

As consumers we all have the power to choose where and how we spend our money. It really is down to us to educate and inform ourselves, pay more attention to what we are buying, ask more questions and ultimately vote with our wallets. Every penny we spend ultimately has an impact on the environment. Informed, greener, ethical decisions generally have a positive environmental impact.

If you need help cutting through all the greenwashing and making the right green choices to reduce the environmental impact of your business please get in touch as Achieving Greenness can help.

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