How Greenwashing Works: Understanding Its Impact On Sustainability | Vietcetera
Billboard banner
Jun 05, 2023

How Greenwashing Works: Understanding Its Impact On Sustainability

But what exactly is greenwashing, and why should you care?
How Greenwashing Works: Understanding Its Impact On Sustainability

Greenwashing allows companies to present a façade of environmental responsibility without genuinely embracing sustainability. | Source: Shutterstock

In today’s era of heightened environmental awareness, numerous companies and organizations capitalize on the trend of eco-friendliness and sustainability. However, not all of these claims are genuine.

This is where greenwashing comes into play — a deceptive practice that disguises a lack of sincere commitment to the environment. This article seeks to illuminate the concept of greenwashing and its significance and provide insights on how you can identify it to make well-informed decisions as a responsible consumer.

But what exactly is greenwashing, and why should you care?

This: A fast food chain introduces a new “green” packaging initiative, claiming their packaging is now biodegradable and eco-friendly. However, it's discovered that only a tiny percentage of their packaging meets these claims, while the majority still contributes to plastic waste and environmental harm.

Or. An automaker markets its latest car model as an eco-conscious choice, emphasizing its electric powertrain and reduced emissions. However, upon closer examination, it becomes evident that the majority of the car's components are still sourced from unsustainable materials, and the manufacturing process generates a substantial carbon footprint.

By definition, greenwashing means the misleading promotion of products, services, or practices as environmentally friendly, sustainable, or socially responsible, despite lacking actual adherence to these principles. It is a marketing strategy that exploits the growing demand for sustainable options while avoiding substantial changes or improvements in operational practices. Essentially, greenwashing allows companies to present a façade of environmental responsibility without genuinely embracing sustainability.

Greenwashing can undermine genuine efforts toward sustainability and mislead consumers into making uninformed choices. By creating a false impression of environmental responsibility, companies can damage the credibility of legitimate eco-friendly initiatives. It also hampers the collective progress needed to address pressing environmental challenges.

Also Read: Follow The Green Trail: 5 Sustainable Travel Experiences In Vietnam

Source: Shutterstock

Spotting Greenwashing

Detecting greenwashing requires a critical eye and an understanding of common tactics used to deceive consumers. Here are some key indicators to watch out for:

Vague or Misleading Language

Greenwashing often involves the use of vague, generalized, or unsubstantiated claims. Look for terms like “green,” “natural,” or “eco-friendly” without clear explanations or supporting evidence. Genuine eco-friendly products or practices are usually accompanied by specific details and certifications.

Lack of Transparency

Transparency is essential in assessing a company’s environmental claims. If a company fails to provide detailed information about its sustainability practices, supply chains, or certifications, it could be a sign of greenwashing. Legitimate organizations usually readily share this information to build trust with their customers.

Irrelevant Certifications or Labels

Be wary of certifications or labels that are unfamiliar or created by the company itself. Look for well-known, reputable, and independent third-party certifications with rigorous environmental performance standards. Verify the legitimacy of these labels through reliable sources.

Overemphasis on Small Achievements

Greenwashing often involves highlighting minor green efforts while downplaying more significant environmental concerns. If a company heavily promotes a single eco-friendly aspect without addressing significant environmental impacts in its operations, it may be a case of greenwashing.

Lack of Context or Comparison

Comparative claims are valuable for consumers to assess the environmental benefits of a product or service. Suppose a company merely states that its product is the “greenest” or “most sustainable” without providing context or comparing it to similar offerings. In that case, it may be an attempt to mislead consumers.

Source: Shutterstock

Embracing Greenwatching Strategies for Genuine Sustainability

The impact of greenwashing extends far and wide, eroding public trust in companies and making it challenging for those genuinely committed to sustainability to stand out. This undermines the effectiveness of sustainability initiatives, leaving stakeholders wanting to know which companies are truly dedicated to making a positive environmental impact.

To combat this, adopting a greenwatching mindset and implementing strategies can help your company overcome the greenwashing phenomenon. By setting clear goals, engaging with stakeholders, and reporting transparently and authentically, you can enhance your company's reputation and foster positive connections with consumers and stakeholders.

Drawing from insights shared in Vero Agency's playbook, “Greenwatching: A Playbook for Authentic Sustainability Communication in Southeast Asia,” consider incorporating the following strategies:

Set Achievable Goals

One way to avoid the appearance of greenwashing is to choose sustainability goals that match your capabilities and ambitions. Set measurable and relevant targets such as reducing greenhouse gas emissions, plastic waste, or energy usage alongside social metrics. Communicate these goals with simple, focused data points connected to specific targets and explain their relevance to your company's business model.

Strategize Internal Change

Companies often go through intensive operational transitions to comply with sustainable business standards. These changes require sincere commitment, diligent planning, strong governance, and expert management. Focus on assessment, areas of improvement, and leadership engagement to fast-track these efforts.

Communicate with Internal Stakeholders

Empower your employees to participate in your sustainability journey by creating an internal communication and action framework that reflects the desired outcome. Educate employees about the areas where the company can make an impact, inform and explain goals and milestones clearly, and engage them in culturally relevant activities that can be measured and shared with everyone involved.

Promote a Sustainable Ecosystem

Adopt sustainable procurement practices to ensure you are purchasing goods and services that are produced in a sustainable manner. Credit and promote vendors who enable your operations. Compete with products and services while converging with sustainable practices. Collaborate with partners and address societal issues related to your business.

Measure Your Impact and Report It

Use third-party verification to receive a trustworthy endorsement that your sustainability claims are accurate and your sustainability efforts are authentic. Tailor your reporting and communication with company-specific highlights that weave through corporate and consumer communications. Provide consumers with transparency regarding specific value points and report successes, limitations, and failures with equal candidness.