April 7, 2023
Rachel Belliston

What is Greenwashing?

Greenwashing occurs when an organization spends more time and money on marketing itself as environmentally friendly than on genuinely making efforts to minimize its environmental impact. Organizations use greenwashing to mislead consumers who purchase goods and services from environmentally conscious brands. The term was created by Jay Westerveld in 1986 when most consumers received news from radio, tv, newspaper, or various others. In other words, it originated when sources were not as “fact checkable” as they are today. However, the internet has allowed more people to fact check companies, resulting in the rise of greenwashing litigation, where companies are being sued for misrepresenting products as environmentally friendly. This includes a recent lawsuit against Coca-Cola by environmental non-profit Earth Island Institute.  

Green Marketing vs. Greenwashing

It is difficult to know if an organization is using green marketing or greenwashing. An organization that utilizes green marketing, as opposed to greenwashing, is practical, honest, and transparent about the practices and means of producing a product or service. Meaning, that the organization’s products or services usually meet the following criteria:

  • Manufactured sustainably.  
  • Free of toxic materials.
  • Recyclable or produced from recycled materials.
  • Made from renewable materials.
  • Not made of materials that negatively impact protected areas such as habitats or endangered species.  
  • Not manufactured using slave labor or by workers not paid fairly.
  • Does not use excessive packaging, especially plastics.  
  • Designed to be repairable rather than disposable.  

While green marketing can be important for an organization, it is easy for a company to practice greenwashing if proper sustainable practices are not implemented. To claim that your business is environmentally friendly, you must have practices that back up those claims.  

Common Examples of Greenwashing

Many greenwashing techniques are used by organizations today to help make a product or service appear better for the environment. The following are some of the most common ways companies utilize greenwashing and how to recognize them.  

  • Less is More: This is typically the most generic form of greenwashing and occurs when a company or chain suggests that doing something such as washing an item less is better for the environment.
  • Efficiency Claims: This occurs when a company claims that a product or service is more energy efficient than a similar product of another brand. They claim that because they are more energy efficient, less energy needs to be produced and therefore have less environmental impact.  
  • “Recycle This” Approach: This occurs when an organization states that one approach is better for the environment than another by claiming that their product is recyclable. However, this is typically not the case, and these innovative approaches are typically not better, let alone recyclable.  
  • Green Targets: This occurs when an organization or government entity publicly shares its green goals to make it appear that they are trying to preserve the environment. While making these environmental goals is not necessarily bad, these corporate goals are often do not have measures in place to reach those targets.  

How to Avoid Greenwashing

It is easy to see why greenwashing can harm a brand’s reputation, but how can a company avoid accidentally greenwashing? The following are some suggestions to ensure your organization does not commit greenwashing.  

  • Be Specific: Do not use generic terms that do not have a specific meaning or description. For example, stating that a product is “eco-friendly” or “natural” is too generic and does not specify how the product or service is green.  
  • Use Data: Data about an organization’s environmental impact should support its claims and numerically detail the effects of actions taken.  
  • Avoid Misleading Images: Using pictures of nature typically gives consumers the impression that a product or service is environmentally friendly. Images not backed by evidence-supported claims are at risk of greenwashing.  
  • Be Truthful: We live in a time where claims are fact-checked via the internet daily. Because of this, statements regarding environmental claims should remain truthful, or else they may be exposed as falsehoods.  


Understanding the consequences of greenwashing and how to avoid it will ensure that your organization’s overall reputation and success can continue for many years. While it does take a lot of effort and reinforcing certain practices to ensure that your company is green marketing and not greenwashing, the results are worth it. Sumsion Business Law can help to ensure that you and your company does not get accused of greenwashing in the future.  

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