Greenwashing: What it is and how to avoid it

Greenwashing: What it is and how to avoid it

As a consumer, you have probably seen a rise in eco-friendly products and services offered by businesses. Sustainable and eco-friendly products and services have become a trend which seems to be increasing day by day. This sounds great, right?

Well, this is great because it means that consumers (like yourselves) are more aware of what they use and who they do business with, encouraging even more businesses to become greener.  But with this success has come deception; some businesses want to jump on the green bandwagon without putting the work into actually becoming greener.

And that’s where the term greenwashing comes from.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with what greenwashing is and how you can avoid it, read on.

What is Greenwashing?

Greenwashing is a practice that some businesses use to deceive or mislead their customers into believing that their brand is eco-friendlier than it really is. These businesses will spend more money telling you they’re eco-friendly than what they actually put into making their business practices and products eco-friendly.

This may sound like a simple ‘white lie’ that businesses tell to strengthen their brand, but greenwashing is far more common than you may realise. And with it being so common, this makes it a big problem for consumers because it’s harder to distinguish actual green brands from the rest.

Moreover, greenwashing technically incentivises something that hurts the environment, which is why it’s important that as a consumer, you can recognise and avoid greenwashing tactics.

The 7 sins of greenwashing to avoid

You may wonder how greenwashing works or how businesses get away with acting greener than they actually are.

Well, the businesses that try to greenwash their audience usually have a few tricks up their sleeves, so you will need to be extra vigilant to both recognise and avoid becoming another greenwashed victim of theirs.

Below we have highlighted the leading greenwashing tricks (aka the 7 sins of greenwashing) that you need to look out for:

1.     No proof

What a business says vs. what they actually do can be a very different story. So, when a business claims to have a role in helping the environment, they should be able to back up their claims with some sort of evidence or a reliable third-party certification.

Why wouldn’t a business be able to back up their ecological claims? Maybe because they aren’t true.

So, if a brand that you want to do business with can’t back up any of their ecological claims, this should be a cause for concern and maybe a business to avoid altogether.

2.     Irrelevant claims

One way to greenwash the audience is by using the trick of making irrelevant claims. From time to time you will come across a brand making an environmental claim which is true but irrelevant due to certain circumstances, such as being outdated.

For example, if a brand labels their product ‘CFC free’, even though this is a good environmental claim, it has no significance due to the fact that CFCs have been banned for a number of years after scientists discovered they were linked to the thinning of the ozone layer.

Such claims are made to trick consumers into believing that their brand is making an actual effort in becoming or being green, when in reality they are just following the law.

3.     Fibbing

This may be an obvious one, but some companies go as far as making false claims about their practices to come across as a green brand.

This may be a hard trick to dodge as you can never predict what sort of business would go as far as making up a lie to strengthen their brand.

But, by doing a bit of extra research on a brand, you may be able to uncover a lie. The chances are, if a brand has made some extreme false claims, you wouldn’t be the only person to question this and try to find out, or even expose the brand.


An example of fibbing is Volkswagen who rigged 11 million of its own “clean diesels” with devices designed to cheat emissions

4.     False labels

Often, you will get businesses that try to promote a third-party endorsement or certificate that doesn’t actually exist. With a false label, consumers can be tricked into thinking that an ecological brand has given the product its imaginary seal of approval. This greenwashing tactic can be hard to spot, especially if you’re new to buying green products.

5.     Vagueness

Vagueness is quite often used as a marketing tactic by businesses to try and greenwash consumers into believing that their brand is green. The way that businesses use vagueness to greenwash is by using vague claims/words such as ‘all natural’ that are so broad that they can be misinterpreted to give an eco-friendly image of the brand.

Moreover, vagueness aside, the reality is that ‘all natural’ doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s good for the environment!

6.     Lesser of two evils

The lesser of two evils trick is another common tactic to make a brand look greener than it is. This is where a brand will focus on one point of their product or service to make it look eco-friendly within its category and distract consumers from the overall damage that this particular product or service can cause.

The product is still harmful to the environment, just not as harmful than it used to be. For example, an organic cigarette is still a cigarette, it’s going to be harmful to the environment (and yourself!) no matter what.

Why even use plastic at all? An example of the ‘lesser of two evils’ trick

7.     Hidden trade-offs

This is a tactic where a brand will label their product as eco-friendly based on a few small aspects of the product whilst hiding other, more damaging aspects of said product (for example, the environmental harm caused during the production phase).

Knowing the whole story of the environmental impacts of a product is really important. In the travel industry, you might come across hotels that claim to be green, but which were not built with eco-friendly practices.

Avoid being greenwashed on your next adventure

Greenwashing is present in all industries, including travel and hospitality. So, when you’re planning your next adventure, it’s important to keep in mind that there are many businesses that use greenwashing tactics.

And just being able to identify and avoid these businesses will help towards creating a greener future for travel.

Kiwano can help you towards the first step of becoming a green traveller by providing a list of approved green accommodations for you to stay at and giving you further tips on how to stay green as a traveller.

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