Updated: Jun 12
Article Written by Maddy McColgan
Greenwashing is a deceiving practice where companies promote themselves and/or their products as green, eco-friendly, or sustainable, more than they actually are. Given the increased engagement in sustainability in recent years and the rising demands for equitable sourcing, corporations are pushed to go “green” by society. However, while the growing sentiment has influenced many businesses and contributed to the growth of the global ethical market, a number of corporations are riding this new trend. Corporations employ misleading marketing tactics that appeal to customers who want to be more environmentally-sound without actually changing most (if any) of their business practices. Environmentally-conscious consumers purchasing these products believe they are being mindful about the impacts of their purchase and that they are contributing to an essential cause.
Corporate greenwashing practices increased in commonality during the 1980s as large corporations attracted consumers through making hyperbolic corporate environmental claims that gained empathy from the people. The oil company Chevron, a leading corporation in greenwashing practices at the time, began advertising their employees as protectors of cute wildlife in order to sell more products; the marketing tactic worked splendidly as sales shot up.
Due to limited access to credible resources and information on sustainability and environmental justice action that was then coupled with very forceful marketing strategies that pushed helping animals and promoted eco-friendliness, corporate greenwashing was made even more successful. However, even as information becomes more accessible, corporate greenwashing remains prevalent in modern business industries; practices have grown vastly more sophisticated as the public relation departments of companies continue to spin advertisements in favor of their brand’s public image.
Amidst growing demands for climate change awareness and environmental reform, some companies and industries have caught on in that they realize how, in order for them to appeal to the public, they need to make change; for some, greenwashing is the perfect way around reformation. Despite evidence that ethical business practices and institutional transparency as well as actions for positive environmental impact results in greater benefits, industries that are fundamentally “non-eco-friendly” and/or would make significant losses by changing current practices still default to exercising the marketing ploys of corporate greenwashing.
Polman, Paul. “Commentary: Corporate Greenwashing Is All the Rage. How Can We Stop It?” Fortune, Fortune, 11 Apr. 2021, https://fortune.com/2021/04/11/greenwashing-esg-businesses-corporations-climate-change/.
River, Beau. “The Increasing Dangers of Corporate Greenwashing in the Era of Sustainability.” Forbes, Forbes Magazine, 10 Dec. 2021, https://www.forbes.com/sites/beauriver/2021/04/29/the-increasing-dangers-of-corporate-greenwashing-in-the-era-of-sustainability/?sh=4fda16004a32.
“The Troubling Evolution of Corporate Greenwashing.” The Guardian, Guardian News and Media, 20 Aug. 2016, https://www.theguardian.com/sustainable-business/2016/aug/20/greenwashing-environmentalism-lies-companies.
Acaroglu, Leyla. “What Is Greenwashing? How to Spot It and Stop It.” Medium, Disruptive Design, 9 Oct. 2020, medium.com/disruptive-design/what-is-greenwashing-how-to-spot-it-and-stop-it-c44f3d130d5.
Schwingle, Nadia. “5 Ways to Spot Greenwashing.” One Green Planet, One Green Planet, 23 Sept. 2020, www.onegreenplanet.org/environment/5-ways-to-spot-greenwashing/.
“What Is Greenwashing?” Business News Daily, www.businessnewsdaily.com/10946-greenwashing.html.