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Understanding Greenwashing: How to avoid misleading claims on your marketing materials  

At Link, we appreciate the importance of addressing critical social and environmental challenges that impact both our business and our clients’ global value chains. Greenwashing is an activity that no business wants to be accused of, especially if they are taking genuine steps to make their operations more sustainable. Often, greenwashing might not be intentional but stems from a lack of clarity in communication, and possibly an over-enthusiastic desire to tell customers about a product’s environmental credentials. In our latest insights blog, we delve into the concept of greenwashing and explore ways to prevent it.

Defining Greenwashing

Effective sustainability communication is key to an organization’s journey towards a more sustainable future for both the business and society at large. Greenwashing occurs when false or misleading information is presented regarding the environmental sustainability of a product or service, often involving unsubstantiated claims. For example, using terms like “conscious,” “eco-conscious,” or “green” to project an image of environmental responsibility. This can manifest in various aspects of sustainability communications, including product or service claims and even company strategies, and activities.

This practice is problematic for several reasons. It misleads consumers who genuinely want to support environmentally responsible businesses, potentially hinders the sustainability efforts of responsible companies. It also overshadows the genuine sustainability initiatives of ethical businesses and their efforts to create a constructive dialogue with their customers that has a real sense of accountability and transparency.

Here are some examples:

A plastic package containing a new shower curtain is labelled “recyclable.” It is not clear whether the package or the shower curtain is recyclable. In either case, the label is deceptive if any part of the package or its contents, other than minor components, cannot be recycled.

An area rug is labelled “50% more recycled content than before.” In fact, the manufacturer increased the recycled content from 2% to 3%. Although technically true, the message conveys the false impression that the rug contains a significant amount of recycled fibre.

A trash bag is labelled “recyclable.” Trash bags are not ordinarily separated from other trash at the landfill or incinerator, so they are highly unlikely to be used again for any purpose. The claim is deceptive because it asserts an environmental benefit where no meaningful benefit exists.

How to avoid Greenwashing 

1). Understand your product/service capabilities. 

Start by clarifying your product or service’s relationship with environmental and social responsibility. Clearly reviewing its credentials and its purpose will help you describe it properly while being transparent. 

2). Review and provide evidence. 

Share your sustainability story with stakeholders, backed by verifiable information which supports your claims. Be open about the extent to which your product or service is sustainable and do not overreach with statements that cannot be backed up. 

3). Be clear and choosing your words wisely. 

Be clear and specific to avoid confusion. Avoid vague terms, like ‘green’ or ‘eco-friendly’ that lack clear meaning and are often based on personal opinions. Use specific language that conveys the true meaning of your sustainability efforts.

The EU Directive on Green Claims   

The proposed EU directive aims to make it mandatory for companies to substantiate green claims in business-to-consumer commercial practices. This would involve compliance with various requirements, such as taking a life-cycle perspective. While the directive has not yet been adopted, it’s a good idea to keep it in mind and align practices accordingly. You can learn more about the Green Claims directive here. 

Greenwashing erodes consumer trust, hampers meaningful progress toward sustainability, and has adverse consequences for both businesses and the environment. At Link, we are committed to the collective prioritization of transparency and authenticity in our sustainability communications. 

For further information on our sustainability initiatives and best practices, feel free to reach out to us!