Greenwashing is a term used to describe deceitful and misleading claims or actions by companies in an attempt to promote themselves as environment-friendly. In the past few years as a result of increased awareness about environmental issues, supporting green businesses has become a priority for consumers and corporate social responsibility is now considered to be a great means of marketing. This trend has paved the way for some companies to take advantage, by purporting to be environmentally friendly, they cultivate their image and subsequently boost their sales.
The term was first used in 1986 when environmentalist Jay Westerfield wrote about a hotel asking guests to reuse towels in order to reduce the consumption of chemicals for washing processes at the hotel. Although it is true that less washings would be environmentally positive, the hotel was at the same time having other detrimental activities to environment which implied to Westerfield that the hotel’s promotion of towel reuse was merely an attempt to lower their own financial expenses.
Greenwashing can be used to deceit consumers about a company’s products, services or various activities. Greenwashing is done in different forms, including providing false information, stating vague or misleading data, or sometimes even by providing authentic information but with an intention to overshadow the company’s wrongdoing in other areas. For example, a company bolds its environment-friendly activities, using media and TV commercials to reflect an unrealistic and exaggerated image of their environmental consciousness in the mind of public.
Greenwashing can relate to any false claim of a product or activity to be green, healthy, recyclable, less wasteful and less chemical. Providing vague or unsubstantiated claim about a product’s sustainability is also considered an act of greenwashing so, it is very important for companies to provide detailed, clear and specific information. Currently, according to European commission, 53% of green claims on products and services are vague, misleading or based on unsubstantiated information. To tackle this issue, European commission has proposed Green claims directive which will increase clarity and transparency of claims; The proposed directive is a complement to EU’s consumer right directive and enacts rules on substantiation, communication and verification of voluntary environmental claims and environmental labels. some of the important aspects of Substantiation and verification of Green claims directive include:
• Clarifying whether the green claim relates to all or certain activities of the company.
• Proving claims by relying on scientific evidence and provision of clear and accurate information.
• Making environmental impact assessments while considering all relevant environmental aspects of a certain practice.
• EU member states are responsible to set up verification processes to be performed by independent auditors.
However, Green claim directive is not still approved by EU member countries and might have a long way to take effect.