28 September 2021

What is Greenwashing and How Can It Be Avoided?

Greenwashing is a communication and marketing strategy used by companies or other organisations. It involves promoting environmental arguments to build an environmentally responsible image with the public when the reality either does not correspond at all or not enough to the explicit or implicit content of the messages. 1, 2

The term “greenwashing” was based on the model of “whitewashing” and used in the early 1990s by NGOs seeking to denounce certain practices of large industrial groups. It was then popularised in the 2000s, which saw a significant expansion of the process. Greenwashing generates confusion that harms the entities actually engaged in effective processes of CSR and sustainable development. It can be considered false or misleading advertising.

Does Swiss law provide for sanctions? The answer is no. When it comes to greenwashing, everything falls to the consumers, explains Sandra Langel, research assistant at the Institute for the Fight against Economic Crime (ILCE) at the Arc Business School (HEG-Arc) in Neuchâtel. She works on environmental crime issues. “No one regulates the market, it is up to consumers to denounce advertisements that they think are misleading or false. However, while the terms “ecological” or “environmental” are fairly well protected, others such as “sustainable” or “natural” are not included in the law. For a company, it is therefore easy to display them without sanctions.”  3

Greenwashing became more subtle as authorities and consumers became more watchful. In light of this, how can we ensure that a company has really undertaken a long-term transition? Here are some things to watch out for to avoid being bamboozled by greenwashing:

  • Using evasive wording and weak statements
  • Diverting attention away from the rest of the range by focusing on one environmentally friendly product/service
  • Giving irrelevant or contradictory arguments
  • Embellishing reality/excessively highlighting certain qualities
  • Using false claims and labels to deceive

The key to making the right choices is definitely research. The more you learn about different certifications, ingredients and the products themselves, the more easily you will be able to sift through the information and make informed choices. 

Today, companies’ environmental initiatives must produce tangible results. Inovacomm’s values and intentions are fully in line with this way of working. As an antidote to greenwashing, we have chosen transparent, honest and responsible communication.