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What is Greenwashing? Exposing the Green Sheen

What is greenwashing? How does it affect environmental protection efforts? Learn more about these deceitful methods that companies use to entice consumers into buying their products.

The current state of our environment is nothing to smile about. As such, companies can benefit financially from implementing sound environmental practices.

For starters, green business practices attract new environmentally conscious clients. It also lets companies enjoy a positive reputation with present customers. Lastly, government regulations aid such businesses’ expansion if they adopt sustainable practices.

Most consumers globally are willing to pay more for better societal and environmental brands. But, although this is encouraging news, customers are becoming less trusting of larger companies.

Why? Most of these “green” claims by big businesses are dubious or false. And this is what we refer to as greenwashing.

But what exactly does greenwashing entail?

Green Sheen

What Is Greenwashing?

Greenwashing is a marketing strategy companies use to give the impression that their products, services, or policies are more environmentally friendly than they actually are. Companies greenwash their products and services by making environmental claims that do not stand up to scrutiny.

Greenwashing or putting a “green sheen” on a company can include:

  • Exaggerating the green features of a product,
  • Claiming to use green technology that isn’t green,
  • Painting products green to make them appear greener than they are
  • Misleading environmental claims

The truth is greenwashing does nothing but mislead customers who genuinely care about the environment. It also wastes valuable resources that should have gone into actual green initiatives instead of trying to trick people with fake green practices.

Unfortunately, greenwashing is a serious problem that only continues to grow. As green marketing becomes more attractive to consumers, greenwashing will only become more prevalent and convincing.

Therefore, it is up to individual companies to take responsibility and ensure they are not greenwashing their products or services. Greenwashing must be exposed and addressed for green business practices and sustainable technology to become part of the mainstream truly.

By doing so, we can ensure customers get what they pay for – products with genuinely sustainable features rather than just green sheen. Also, we can ensure that the companies’ actions don’t have a negative environmental impact.

See Related: Best Greenhouse Ideas: Backyard, Garden & More

Riding the Green Wave


The claim that a company’s products are kind to the environment may help the company make a lot of money. Through green marketing, businesses get more customers and make more money.

Since most people want to do right by the environment, they tend to go for products that they think are eco-friendly. However, this makes it easier for companies to use greenwashing practices to convince people to buy products or services. Subsequently, greenwashing becomes a growing trend that gains popularity with each passing day.

Greenwashing can help a company hide unpleasant facts about how its product or service works. But this isn’t the ultimate solution to the business also. The practice has a negative environmental impact and also hurts customers’ trust in the long run.

The more the customers’ trust in a company decreases, the more the company stands to lose. For this reason, greenwashing might be profitable in the short run but quite detrimental, even for the company in the long run.

See Related: Best Insulation for a Greenhouse

Types of Greenwashing

Paintbrush and Green Paint

A “greenwashing” company might take credit for an already-used manufacturing process and act as if it was following an environmentally friendly rule. For instance, a company could stop packaging items in shrink wrap to save money but says it is doing its part for the environment.

Also, a company can claim that its product doesn’t cause harmful effects on the environment when in use. However, it will cleverly neglect to mention the detrimental environmental impact of its manufacturing process.

Companies even lie about how eco-friendly a product is by using popular green phrases. For instance, you can see terms like “best in class” and “eco-friendly” packaging with pictures of green meadows and flowers. All these are instances of greenwashing in marketing.

The sad thing is this works. Greenwashing is appalling because it preys on peoples’ notions of being eco-friendly through simple imagery.

See Related: Green Revolution Pros and Cons to Know

What Is Greenwashing in Marketing?

As we have already seen, greenwashing in marketing is the deceptive practice that companies use to appear green to customers. In simpler words, we can refer to it as false green marketing.

While greenwashing only originally covered overselling a product’s or company’s green features, its scope has since broadened. Nowadays, greenwashing in marketing can be put into several categories. Here are the most common ones:

1. Environmental Imageries

Recycling image

Pictures of trees and animals and ostensibly “green” packaging are two of the most common ways to “greenwash.” Products that are genuinely good for the environment tend to come in simple and plain packaging that is easily recyclable or biodegradable.

On the other hand, companies using greenwashing practices will have those plants or animals on their packaging but only for the show. In the real sense, the products are nowhere near being eco-friendly when in use or during production.

See Related: Best Greenhouse Paint & Spray-On Shading

2. False Green Labels 

There are labels on some products, like “Certified,” “100% organic,” etc., that are hard to authenticate. For instance, these labels often don’t provide additional details to support their claim.

In this case, some companies might be using these false labels to mislead consumers. And since customers tend to buy products with such labels without thinking much, the companies reap big from this misinformation.

However, these products might have devastating environmental and health impacts in the long run. So, consumers should be careful every time their purchase decision is pegged to such labels. They should do some further research.

3. Hidden Trade-offs

Corporations may try to look like they care about the environment and are sustainable. However, they often make trade-offs that aren’t good for the environment. 

For instance, some clothing manufacturers claim to use “natural” or “recycled” materials. But, when you dig deeper, the methods used to make the clothes aren’t quite as green or sustainable. In the long run, it means that the products aren’t environmentally friendly.

On the other hand, legit firms go a step further to prove they are what they claim to be. For example, they provide additional information regarding things like;

Such information gives consumers more reasons to trust the company and its products.

4. Irrelevant Claims

Some products’ labels may say they don’t contain any listed compounds because they care about the environment. But it doesn’t help if using the materials mentioned above is already banned by the law. It means that no other company is using the compounds, but the company is riding on this to gain sales, especially from unsuspecting consumers.

Another good example is when you see a product labeled “not tested on animals.” This label becomes irrelevant if used in a country like China, where the law demands animal testing.

5. Unproven Claims

Global warming, earth image

Some companies use various environmental marketing claims that they can’t substantiate. These are meant to sway the consumers’ purchase decision by convincing them that the company is green. However, some of these are just claims and nothing more.

For example, a company might claim to have implemented new manufacturing processes that support recycling. Even more cunning, it might claim to eliminate certain hazardous ingredients from its products.

However, all of these might be just claims, as most companies will never offer proof. They are never ready to reveal any specifics.

6. Vagueness or Lack of Definition

As I said, companies are out there to make money. And some are using deceitful methods to ensure they make sales.

The vagueness of information is one tact these businesses are using. For example, some might use undefined terms or terms that apply to a different context. What do I mean?

A company might claim to sell sustainable products. But what exactly do sustainable products mean? In what context?

Usually, a company might describe a product as non-toxic or non-hazardous. However, this might differ with the context.

For example, the product might not be toxic when touched but really toxic when ingested. When companies don’t differentiate this and fail to offer more information, they certainly mislead consumers.

7. Exaggeration of Facts

Offering false information is a common greenwashing practice but which consumers may recognize easily. As such, companies have become even more clever. They are offering valid claims but in an exaggerated manner.

For example, a company might be working towards reducing its carbon footprint. This isn’t a lie. However, they might claim to have achieved a 50% shift to using renewable energy instead of the actual 20%. Now, that’s where the lie comes in.

When consumers see this, they believe that the company is putting considerable effort into improving the environment. And while in the real sense they are, it’s not in the amount they purport to. So, consumers will use the company’s products simply because of a lie.

8. The Lesser of Two Evils

This is where one company or brand claims its products are more environmentally friendly than its competitors. Even worse, they do this while their products are not actually eco-friendly.

A good example is when a fast-fashion brand claims its collection is circular, eco-friendly, and conscious. However, these companies fail to acknowledge how unsustainable their business models are.

There is no doubt that using eco-friendly dyes and other materials is a positive environmental move. However, the endless push for cheaper clothing and faster production is unsustainable. It will require more resources, produce more waste, and can result in labor exploitation.

If the brand’s operations lead to any of these issues, it means that it’s not sustainable. So, while they claim to be, since they produce eco-friendly products, the whole process in itself isn’t eco-friendly.

See Related: How to Start Teaching Sustainability in Schools

Sins of Pretending You’re “Going Green”

Holding Plastic Cups

Secrecy Regarding Products

This is the practice of determining a product’s “greenness” based on a small number of features. But, we should always use a broader range of critical environmental concerns when assessing products.

One of the most common products is shampoo. Even though the label might say that one brand of shampoo is better for the environment than other products because it contains organic ingredients, this is not always true.

Instead, customers may find it bad for them and the environment when they use it. This is because it has chemicals and other ingredients that are not always mentioned. Also, it may just be lacking one harmful chemical in a bevy of harmful chemicals.

No Proof of Green Credentials

A company may have an environmental claim that a trustworthy third-party certification can’t or won’t back up. For example, when purchasing tissues or toilet paper, people frequently fail to search for evidence of eco-friendliness.

These products are readily usable but may contain some post-consumer recycled material. However, the manufacturers don’t have to show proof of this as the product is already used.

Not Being Straightforward

The phrase “all-natural” sounds good but means nothing. Lots of things are natural. Arsenic, uranium, mercury, and formaldehyde can all be found in nature and are all dangerous.

Some types of marketing that supposedly care about the environment can be hard to understand. For example, words like “green,” “environmentally friendly,” “eco-friendly,” “green Packaging,” and “eco-conscious” might be challenging to comprehend. They have broad meanings and can all be used in relative terms.

Comparison of Competitors

If we compare the company’s products to those of its competitors, we may find that they are better. But that doesn’t mean they are always the best choice for the eco-conscious customer.

Organic cigarettes made from tobacco and SUVs that use less gas are two examples. This is an example of how a company might use “greenwashing” to make customers forget the bad things about their products.

Cigarettes still cause health issues. All SUVs have terrible gas mileage compared to smaller cars.

Lying about a Product

Lies. These greenwashing claims have nothing to do with reality. One of the most common types is a product that says it is certified or registered by Energy Star when it is not.

The worst thing is that these claims mislead consumers into making unhealthy purchase decisions. While someone could have bought a genuine eco-friendly product that benefits them and the environment, they are made to buy products that only claim to be eco-friendly. In the end, these products might be harmful to the consumer or the planet.

Caring too much About Labels

Customers are told that the product they bought has been through an actual green certification process through labels. This could make someone think that the company uses natural resources or is carbon neutral. But in the end, these companies don’t have proper certifications.

Fixing Problems by Creating More Problems

The oil and gas industry (OGI) talks about hydraulic fracturing (fracking) as though it’s a green new way of accessing fossil fuels. It just isn’t. It’s filthy.

Fracking is a drilling technology used to extract oil or natural gas from deep underground. In fracking, water, chemicals, and sand are sprayed at tremendous pressure into Earth’s fractures. And the way OGI does hydraulic fracking is terrible for the environment. 

According to claims from the OGI, fracking will bring more economic growth and mineral rights to undeveloped rural areas. And this will make them rich.

However, communities are often left just as poor. Even worse, they now have to endure lasting and unfixable environmental effects, despite the false promises.

Lying Publicly

This plan keeps people from trying to go green through bare-faced lies to protect non-green interests. Critics say that ecological modernity is impossible and that any effort to make it happen would harm the economy. So why bother going green?

The fact is ecological modernity doesn’t harm the economy – it actually helps it! But, the lies seem to blur the right decisions.

See Related: Best Eco-Friendly Travel Products

Why is Greenwashing a Social Problem?

Lightbulb and Greenwash

Greenwashing techniques harm businesses, the environment, and customers in general. As such, customers will be less likely to trust any eco-pledge in the long run. It will be hard for them to figure out which brands to trust.

According to recent research, even including an image of nature in greenwash marketing materials can improve consumer perception of the product. One green image can make consumers trust a marketing campaign compared to the same advert run without any depictions of nature.

But while it might be working, for now, it might significantly change in the future. The lies might catch up with these companies. And the results might not be pleasant for them.

How Does a Company Greenwash?

Money and Plants

Greenwashing, which is also called “green sheen,” is something that happens all the time. It occurs in various ways, including green product packaging, label claims, and advertising.

Green packaging can include using green colors on the labels of products or making false sustainability claims to make a product seem green when it isn’t. Green label claims are common on food products, where companies will often claim their product is healthy or environmentally friendly when it isn’t.

Even worse, greenwashing even extends to advertising campaigns. They create ads with green-sounding slogans and images but lack a real commitment to sustainable practices.

These strategies create an inaccurate image of the products and the company or brand. As such, companies should strive to avoid them in favor of honest green marketing methods that benefit the environment.

Consumers should go further than just consider companies that talk about the eco-friendliness of their products. They should learn more about how green those products are and even how sustainable the production process is. They should put the companies to the task of offering this information freely and genuinely.

See Related: Best Books on Sustainable Living

Greenwashing Examples

Here are a couple of real examples of greenwashing practices by companies.

1. ExxonMobil

ExxonMobil, an American oil and gas company with operations worldwide, does things that show it is greenwashing. For instance, ExxonMobil said it was reducing its greenhouse gas emissions, a claim that not everyone is buying.

From their adverts, ExxonMobil purports to be committed to identifying energy solutions with reduced global warming effects. Fuel from algae is among their proposed solutions.

They claim that each of their current technologies helps lower their carbon footprint. In fact, they say that one day, their new fuel solution could power planes, fuel trucks, or propel ships, cutting carbon emissions by half.

However, some people see a disconnect in this. The truth is the company’s business model remains focused on the exploitation, development, and sale of gas and oil (fossil fuels). So, while their adverts portray them as great and environmentally conscious guys, their actions say otherwise.

2. Volkswagen

Volkswagen is known for probably the best-known case of “greenwashing” in recent years. The Environmental Protection Agency discovered that this major automaker lied on emissions tests to make it appear that their vehicles produced less pollution than they actually did.

According to EPA, they had added something to their diesel engines that made it challenging to figure out the amount of pollution they were producing. As a result, they lied to their customers about the pollution and carbon dioxide their automobiles produced.

In 2015, EPA found out what exactly Volkswagen was doing. The carmaker intentionally programs their TDI (Turbocharged Direct Injection) engines to activate some emission control during the tests.

This lowers the vehicles’ emission of Nitric Oxide to meet US standards. However, when the cars enter the market, they produce 40 times more Nitric Oxide than during the test.

Volkswagen brand had these controls in over 11 million cars sold between 2009 and 2015. Now, this is outright deceit to the government and the consumers.

3. Malaysia Palm Oil

In 2008, the Malaysia Palm Oil Council ran a TV ad that made it look good from an environmental point of view. However, skeptics pointed out that palm oil plantations are strongly linked to adverse environmental impacts such as:

  • The extinction of rainforest: As palm oil plantations increase, the area under tropical forests decreases. This can undoubtedly alter the region’s climate and weather patterns.
  • Habitat destruction: Since these forests are home to various animal species, the encroachment caused by palm oil farms destroys their habitats. This might create human-animal conflicts and even the extinction of some species of animals and plants.
  • Pollution: Since many farms openly burn the forest to clear land for plantations, there is increased air pollution due to carbon dioxide. This only adds to the greenhouse effect and global warming.
  • Poor health: Air pollution in the region and a decrease in trees to create more fresh air leads to poor health.
  • Increased carbon debt: Cutting down the trees to plant palm oil trees creates a huge carbon debt.

As such, it was found that the ad didn’t follow ad rules. In other words, while palm oil helps grow the Malaysian economy, it goes against the natural resources conservation rules. It has a negative effect on the larger environment.

4. Nestlé

Nestle is another big company that has been found to use greenwashing practices. In 2018, the company stated that it had plans to adopt 100% reusable or recyclable packaging by 2025.

However, the statement was quickly criticized by skeptics and various environmental groups as being vague. It did not provide enough information on how the company intended to achieve this milestone. For instance, there were no clear targets by the company or even efforts to achieve this.

As a result, the entire statement was seen as just a clever tactic to deceive consumers into seeing the company as green. Nestle was named among the world’s largest plastic polluters, along with PepsiCo and Coca-Cola, in 2020.

How Important Is it to Stop Greenwashing Practices?

Stop Sign

Greenwashing has been going on for a long time. However, in recent times, it has become more prevalent, so much so that it is kinda terrifying. And it’s all because more and more people want to buy products that are good for the environment.

If you want to buy good products, you should be wary of the “Green Lies” sold as “Green Goods.” Most people disagree with greenwashing and agree it’s bad for the environment and public health. Plus, people just don’t like to be lied to.

Because “greenwashing” is a hot topic right now, business owners should be conscientious about making false claims about being good for the environment. One complaint is all it takes for people and relevant groups to examine the company’s claims.

Greenwashing is terrible for everyone. Customers are tricked into thinking that the things they buy are pure, organic, and good for the environment, whereas it’s the opposite. Customers lose faith in a company’s sustainable business practices when they find out it has done something wrong.

How Consumers can Identify Greenwashing

In order to identify greenwashing, consumers need to be aware of greenwashing tactics and how companies use them. First, take a close look at product labels and claims. Are there green icons or green words used on the packaging? If so, make sure to research further.

Second, pay attention to advertising campaigns that seem too good to be true. Chances are they probably are making false sustainability claims. Try to find out more from reliable sources like Environmental Health Perspectives.

Finally, stay informed about green marketing initiatives and trends in the industry so you can spot greenwashing when you see it. By being aware of greenwashing tactics and staying informed about green marketing initiatives, we can all help ensure companies don’t get away with fraud.

Since the Federal Trade Commission has set some clear guidelines on how companies can stay green, we can help them do just that. Make them live to their word.


What is green marketing?

Green marketing is the practice where companies promote products and services with environmentally friendly features. But unlike greenwashing, products in green marketing are actually green. It includes advertising for products associated with reduced carbon emissions, increased use of renewable energy, or recyclable products.

What greenwashing examples can be seen today?

Examples of greenwashing include green product packaging, green label claims, green advertising campaigns, and false sustainability claims. Consumers should always be keen when they see such ads and claims.

Is greenwashing a real problem?

Yes, greenwashing is very real. Companies often use these tactics to create an image of greenness and sustainability that isn’t actually true.
This can lead to consumers being misled and green initiatives not receiving the support they deserve. As such, we must curb these practices to ensure that the environment gets the care it deserves.

What is green sheen?

Green Sheen is a deceitful type of marketing that uses environmental claims to help a company appear green in the eyes of consumers. Also known as greenwashing, this practice deceives environmentally conscious consumers into buying products from the company. They do so thinking that they are helping the environment.

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