Opinion

Greenwashing as a marketing tool

“First and foremost, the Australian laws protect the consumers against misleading claims by brands. A marketing campaign must not overstate, directly or by implication, attributes or benefits they don’t really have. Their campaign must not create confusion through deceiving claims.” Mary Whitman explores the damaging impacts of using greenwashing as a marketing tool.

Image by Lauri Rantala, via Flickr Commons.

Australian Consumer Law protects the consumers against unfair contract terms, unsafe products, lay-by agreements, and all kinds of unfair business practices.

As any other law, this one also has its flaws. Greenwashing, in particular, is a peculiar phenomenon that’s been tricking consumer laws across the globe. Greenwashing is an unethical marketing technique of making misleading and unsubstantiated claims about the environmental “friendliness” of a product.

Given the fact that green living is a huge trend and people are getting more conscious about the environment, brands from all industries are making effort to be eco-friendly. The problem is when they aim to seem eco-friendly instead of aiming to be eco-friendly.

To illustrate this through an example: many banks claimed to be eco-friendly just because they allowed the consumers to conduct their finances online. They claimed they were using less paper and they were contributing towards the preservation of our environment. Still, they continued lending money to coal mines and other dangerous emitters. Under the pressure of the community, Australian banks started taking actual measures towards becoming carbon neutral only recently.

How does greenwashing work as a marketing tool? Why is it so common and why do people fall for it? Is it a safe way to promote goods and services?

How Does Greenwashing Work?

We live in a society where ideas of sustainable development are taking the lead. We’ve been damaging our planet for too long. Now, we have to suffer the consequences. If we don’t take any action and we continue living this way, the existence of future generations will be endangered. The facts are overwhelming, and an increasing number of people are getting interested in using less plastic and other products that are harmful for the environment.

This is where businesses get into the picture. When the audience demands something, businesses are falling all over themselves to deliver it. They are making huge efforts to demonstrate they are environmentally conscious. They are spending huge resources on the campaign, hiring assignment writers to produce content and marketing experts to promote their eco-friendly ways. They spend more investment in the marketing process than on actual attempts to contribute towards the preservation and restoration of our environment.

This is the most common greenwashing strategy: a company highlights an eco-friendly program or policy, but the core of its business practices is not as sustainable as it seems.

Is It a Good Marketing Technique?

When a brand claims that its product or service is environmentally friendly, it will attract a larger target audience. Yes; the green label will add appeal to a marketing campaign. Still, providing a claim that is not rooted on actual practices is an unethical marketing technique that may lead to severe consequences.

First and foremost, the Australian laws protect the consumers against misleading claims by brands. A marketing campaign must not overstate, directly or by implication, attributes or benefits they don’t really have. Their campaign must not create confusion through deceiving claims.

This unethical marketing practice is creating problems for the really eco-friendly brands, which are usually smaller and locally-based manufacturers of goods and services. The BIO label is so common and so abused in marketing, that the consumers no longer trust it.

Popular Greenwashing Examples: Proof that Even the Big Names Get Caught

Avon, a huge cosmetic corporation, is constantly highlighting its anti-animal testing policy, but they still pay for animal testing to get their products sold in China. Yes; many people will buy their products thinking they are less damaging than other brands. But they will be tricked into believing they are doing something good for the environment, when the reality is different. That is greenwashing at its worst.

Nestle also faced serious problems due to greenwashing. Many consumers are no longer faithful to the brand once they realized they were misled with deceiving claims. The brand claims to be sustainable, making continuous efforts to contribute to a healthier future and enhance the quality of life. The marketing campaigns, however, never told us that Nestle was abusing community water resources in North America.

Australian consumers are no strangers to greenwashing techniques by local brands. Woodside has been subjected to a lot of criticism because of the way it promotes its “sustainable development” goals. When you see the photos of clean reefs and happy people at its website and on its brochures, you can’t even assume this is an oil and gas company that’s directly responsible for third of Australia’s greenhouse gas pollution.

Avoid Greenwashing by Any Means

Remember: the green label tells only a part of the story. Yes; some policies of the brand may be eco-friendly. However, you have to be sure you’re not being greenwashed into supporting a company that actually does damage to the environment.

Look at the company as a whole. Don’t trust a single ad and search for more information about their sustainable practices. Finally, you can use Google. Just search for the brand’s name and include the keyword environment in your search. You’ll find enough resources to investigate. If you type Nestle environment as a search term, for example, you’ll see both sides of the coin.

Always look at both sides of the coin! It’s the only way to buy goods and services without causing damage to our planet!


Mary Whitman is a writer with a Master of Arts from The University of Adelaide. Mary works focused on the environmental issues and Sustainable Development Goals. Now she works on the research on social impacts of climate change in Australia.