Have You Been Greenwashed?
What smart, environmentally conscious shopper wouldn’t want to purchase items that boast they are natural, green, environmentally friendly, and recyclable? The manufacturers of those products work very hard to convey the message that their product is good for the planet and good for you. But…is it really?
Companies spend millions of dollars on their ad campaigns and packaging hoping that they will convince consumers to purchase their products rather than those of their competitors. Using images of mountains, forests and lush green crops, and words and phrases that sound sustainable are designed to convey the message that this is a product shoppers can feel good about purchasing.
Is it green marketing or greenwashing?
Green marketing is developing and selling environmentally friendly goods or services. Products are developed with a focus on their entire lifecycle - from the source of materials used … to the treatment of the workers involved in manufacturing the product … to being mindful of the waste generated during production of the product … to being aware that the excessive use of single-use plastic is a major contributing factor to pollution and focusing on creating packaging from recycled materials or packaging that is plastic-free.
Changing Markets defines greenwashing as “The practice of falsifying or overstating the green credentials of a product, service or brand. Greenwashing can mislead consumers into buying products they believe are produced and packaged sustainably when they are not.
While greenwashing can be very successful at tricking consumers into buying a product that is not as sustainable as the packaging would suggest, it can also be an expensive lesson for companies and lead to a loss of credibility.
Keurig Green Mountain recently reached a settlement agreeing to pay $10 million after being sued over their coffee pod recyclability claims. Keurig marketed its K-cups as recyclable. Although Keurig provided clear instructions about how their coffee pods should be recycled, it was determined that most “materials recycling facilities” (MRFs) could not process the K-cups which resulted in their being landfilled rather than recycled as the company claimed. Keurig also agreed to add “Check Locally - Not Recycled in Many Communities” to its packaging.
Starbucks introduced a “straw-less” lid to replace the traditional version of its to-go cup that included a disposable straw. As it turned out, the new lid contained more plastic than the old lid and straw combined. Because plastic is one of the least recyclable materials in the world, this change resulted in more plastic heading to the landfills than the previous version.
A UK advertisement for smoothie brand Innocent was banned because the graphics and lyrics gave the misleading impression that purchasing Innocent products would have a positive environmental impact. The company replied that they had intended to convey the message that recycling was better than disposing of the packaging. Companies that focus their claims on the recyclability of their product are overlooking the fact that the plastic recycling rate worldwide is only 9% and in the US it is 5%.
Coca Cola has the dubious distinction of being the #1 plastic polluter worldwide in Break Free from Plastic’s annual brand audits for the last five years. Break Free from Plastic reports that companies producing single-use plastic packaging claim to care about their environmental impact while continuing to increase their production of plastic. Although Coca Cola claimed in 2020 that they are committed to getting every bottle back by 2030, Earth Island Institute filed a lawsuit against Coke for falsely claiming to be environmentally clean and sustainable while really being the biggest plastic polluter in the world.
If you are confused about what greenwashing is and isn’t,
join Viroqua Plastic Free and emcee Matt Voz on Thursday, October 12, 2023
for “The Plastic Conspiracy III, Greenwashing,”
a fun-filled and highly interactive event
at the McIntosh Public Library Link from 5:30 - 7:30 p.m.
Develop the skills you need to become a greenwashing detective!
Come at 5:00 p.m. to enjoy a light meal before the event begins.
Plastic Pollution Coalition Webinar: Greenwashing: Debunking the Plastic Industry’s False Narrative
Business News Daily: What Is Greenwashing?
Greenly Institute: Greenwashing: All you Need to Know in 2023
Provenance: 5 Food and Drink Brands Called Out for Greenwashing and the Lessons We Can Learn
Capital Monitor: Explainer: Household Brands Accused of Greenwashing