As a savvy consumer, you likely know to be on the lookout for false advertising. But what about greenwashing? Greenwashing is a type of environmental marketing that uses misleading or unsubstantiated claims to promote a product or service as environmentally friendly.
While greenwashing can take many forms, understanding the history of greenwashing and the dangers it poses can help you make more informed choices as a consumer. Here’s what to know about greenwashing and some of the red flags that are commonly used by companies engaging in this deceptive practice.
What is Greenwashing?
The term “greenwashing” was first coined in the 1980s by Jay Westerveld, a former advertising executive. He used it to describe the practice of companies who make false or misleading claims about their environmental practices to gain a competitive advantage or improve their public image. While some greenwashing claims may be true, others are simply false or exaggerated.
While greenwashing is not a new phenomenon, it has become more prevalent in recent years as consumers have become more environmentally conscious and companies have increasingly used marketing and advertising to capitalize on this trend.
Examples of Greenwashed Marketing
This type of false advertising can be either subtle or blatant, and it can be hard to spot alongside ethically-marketed eco-conscious products. Some common examples of greenwashing include but are not limited to:
- Promoting a product as “eco-friendly” without providing any evidence to support this claim.
- Using vague terms like “sustainable” or “natural” without defining what they mean.
- Making unsubstantiated claims about a product’s environmental benefits.
- Comparing a specific product to an industry average instead of its true environmental impact.
- Focusing on one aspect of a product or service while ignoring its overall environmental footprint.
The Dangers of Greenwashing
When it comes to environmentalism, ignorance is not bliss. It can be downright dangerous.
Companies know consumers are becoming more eco-conscious and they’re trying to cash in on that and curry favor with a specific audience without actually putting in the effort to create a natural or eco-friendly product. It’s a deceptive tactic that can have real consequences for both the environment and consumers who might unwittingly support a company’s harmful practices.
Greenwashing lets companies off the hook from making real changes that would benefit the environment. And when customers are being duped into thinking a company is doing more than it is, they’re not going to put pressure on them to do better, leaving environmentally harmful practices to continue unchecked.
Consumers should be able to trust that the products they buy are what they claim to be. But when companies engage in greenwashing and other deceptive marketing tactics, they’re not only causing tangible harm to the environment, but they’re also violating consumer trust.
How to Protect Yourself From False Greenwashed Ads
You can avoid being misled by greenwashed ads by educating yourself about what to look for and red flags that are indicative of a product likely being falsely advertised. Consider these helpful identification tips when getting started.
- Be skeptical or weary of advertising claims that feel like they’re too good to be true. Usually, they are.
- Avoid overly-descriptive, “fluffy” wording that sounds good but has little actual meaning. These buzzwords make products seem better than they are.
- Do your own research to find out more about the product or service. Look for actual user reviews and photographs taken by users and uploaded to the website.
- Check out online resources that rate and review green products and services. These third parties are usually unbiased and offer neutral reviews on both the good and bad aspects of a purchase.
- Look for evocative images that make products seem greener than they are, like the use of fresh flowers and fruits. This is particularly important if they are used in conjunction with things that are obviously environmentally harmful, like vehicles or air fresheners and hairspray.
- Avoid products that are obviously harmful yet claim to be environmentally conscious. There are many products that cannot be made eco-friendly, like gasoline, styrofoam, Freon refrigerant, and single-use plastics.
Can a Consumer Protection Lawyer Help?
Sometimes, the purchase of greenwashed products can result in harm to the consumer. In these cases, a consumer protection attorney can help injured parties and their families obtain fair compensation and stop companies from using deceptive marketing practices to advertise dangerous products as being eco-friendly or all-natural.
Mazow | McCullough, PC is a veteran Massachusetts and New Hampshire personal injury law firm that has helped many families obtain fair compensation for damages caused by the negligence of other people and corporate entities. Contact us now for more information or to schedule a consultation at (978) 744-8000 or toll-free at (855) 693-9084.