Green washing has traditionally been when companies spread false or misleading messages regarding the sustainability of their products or services. More precisely, greenwashing is when a company reports something that is flatly untrue. In other words, you are breaking the Marketing Act, which is illegal and punishable by law.
Conversely, green washing as such is not if a ‘black’ company communicates about good greening initiatives despite the fact that virtually 100% of their products are not very green. On the other hand, it is unethical green marketing and can be costly.
Green hushing occurs when you are afraid of green washing, which is when you choose to muzzle yourself.
But let’s go back in time to where the concept originated.
In 1986, Jay Westerveld cemented the term greenwashing when he wrote about his trip to Fiji. Here he had visited a resort where he had been greeted by a sign asking guests to recycle their towels. The resort claimed it would protect the sea and the coral reef, which played a big part in their marketing strategy. The message was something like “help us help the environment”.
A beautiful thought in itself. Westerveld knew, however, that at the same time the resort was expanding with new buildings without a thought for the environment. While the resort claimed to care about the environment, their actions showed otherwise. In addition, they even benefited from the profit of having to wash fewer towels.
Hear what several of Denmark’s leading greener companies are saying about Green Washing in a world where 100% sustainability does not exist.
The frequency of greenwashing has only increased
Since Jay Westerveld wrote about it in the 80s, the frequency of greenwashing has only increased. More companies are committing greenwashing in the 21st century too. Some do it deliberately, while others simply do it by accident.
That’s why we’ve chosen to write this article, so you don’t fall into the trap. For example, be aware that the Consumer Ombudsman has been allocated 6 times more resources in the recent Finance Act, so the number of cases will automatically increase. Further, it is one thing to break the law. Another is if you lose credibility with your stakeholders. Especially customers, employees and investors. That’s why you also need to pay attention to ethical marketing.
Table of contents
- Examples of the use of Greenwashing
- Doubt about Greenwashing, leads to Greenhushing
- Guide to Green Marketing and How to Avoid Greenwashing
Examples of the use of Greenwashing
Carbon-neutral, sustainable, climate-friendly and eco-friendly are examples of words companies can use to highlight their products as good for the climate and the environment. These are so-called general environmental claims.
An example of Greenwashing can be that the company has taken small steps in a more sustainable direction. But through marketing, they inflate the message so much that you are misled into thinking that the product as a whole is sustainable.
This is precisely what the Consumer Ombudsman wants to avoid, as it not only misleads the consumer but also creates unfair competition. Just like with regular marketing where false messages are involved.
Doubt about Greenwashing, leads to Greenhushing
Many companies are working towards becoming more sustainable and taking more green actions, as well as generally incorporating sustainability into their future strategy and plan. However, we find that many companies are afraid of being accused of greenwashing, which is why they leave alone with telling about the sustainable actions. Actions that the company is actually already taking. This is called greenhushing. Something we would argue is almost worse than greenwashing, because it can easily be avoided through honesty and transparency.
How to avoid greenwashing
The Consumer Ombudsman regularly receives complaints about so-called “greenwashing”, where consumers question companies’ environmental and climate claims for products or services.
As part of the Consumer Ombudsman’s ongoing work against misleading marketing using environmental or climate claims, in June 2021 the Consumer Ombudsman sent for consultation a draft Quick Guide on environmental marketing. After receiving a number of responses to the consultation, the Consumer Ombudsman is now publishing the final Quick Guide. The aim of the Quick Guide is to help companies avoid misleading claims about the environmental performance of their products.
In short, you should be careful with general statements and instead choose to focus on specific statements. That way you automatically avoid green fatique, which can be a bigger enemy than greenwashing.
Example of general statement:
We are the most climate-friendly marketing agency
Example of concrete statement:
In our marketing agency we have chosen to eat plant-based, upcycle electronics and furniture and buy from recycled sources whenever we can.
We hope this helps you. If you are still in doubt, we can only recommend you to read on (-:
Does the video course fit better than your schedule?
In collaboration with 8 of Denmark’s leading greener companies, we have online green marketing course in 10 chapters. Here we have taken the main points from both the Consumer Ombudsman, businesses as well as current theory.
Go to grønmarketing.dk to participate in the Green Marketing Course.