7 warning signs of greenwashing: How to identify authentic environmental commitment

by | Sep 18, 2023 | Public Relations

Greenwashing is a word we first heard years ago, and it’s an interesting term; greenwashing refers to businesses that claim to be eco-conscious, yet, in reality, aren’t worthy of the term. Businesses may say they’re ‘green’ or ‘sustainable,’ but their actions may say (or scream) otherwise.

In this blog, you are going to learn the warning signs for identifying greenwashing, so you know exactly whether a company is an authentic eco-friendly business or not—and how to make sure your brand or business lives up to its own claims.

Understanding the importance of authentic environmental commitment

Real environmental commitment isn’t just about claims; it’s about actions, and real, measurable change.

An authentic environmental commitment must be: 

  • Good for businesses: Companies that invest in truly green practices often see benefits. For example, a report by Nielsen found that 66 percent of global consumers are willing to pay more for environmentally friendly products; in other words, going green can be a profitable endeavor
  • Good for the environment: Of course, the main benefit of real environmental commitment is the contribution towards a healthier planet; cleaner air, cleaner water, and a better future for everyone. Annually, our global demand for fresh water exceeds a staggering 4.3 trillion cubic meters. Adopting sustainability is crucial for preserving this vital resource as well as for making the world healthy.

7 warning signs of greenwashing: How to identify authentic environmental commitment

Photo by Margot RICHARD on Unsplash

Warning sign #1: Vague language

Some companies might claim to be green, but they use confusing words and phrases that feel ambiguous. They might say they’re ‘eco-friendly’ or ‘natural,’ but without more details, these words alone can be empty. An authentic environmental company will typically provide clear and detailed measures of their efforts

Warning sign #2: Irrelevant claims

Sometimes, companies use irrelevant claims to appear greener. Maybe they’ve started recycling in their offices—which is great, but what about their larger environmental footprint? If they’re still polluting rivers or pumping out greenhouse gasses, their recycling efforts are like a small green leaf atop a big, polluting tree.

Warning sign #3: Lack of proof

Authentic green companies provide concrete evidence of their actions; they are proud of their standing and will often have certifications from credible third-party organizations like the Rainforest Alliance or Energy Star to share. Conversely, if a company can’t provide evidence of their green endeavors, there’s a good chance it’s greenwashing. A study by TerraChoice found that over 95 percent of products sampled were guilty of at least one type of greenwashing.

Warning sign #4: Hidden trade-offs

Companies that greenwash often use hidden trade-offs; they might show off one green attribute of their product, while sneakily hiding other less environmentally friendly facts about their operations. In fact, a study reveals that about 98 percent of products marketed as ‘green’ have been found to commit at least one ‘sin of greenwashing,’ including hidden trade-offs.

Strategies for avoiding products pedaling hidden trade-offs include:

  • Thorough product research: This enables consumers to discern the full environmental impact of the product they’re considering
  • Cautious label reading: In-depth understanding of product labels can help unmask hidden non-green traits
  • Reliance on certified products: Trust only reputed environmental certification institutes; they do rigorous testing and provide a holistic analysis of the product’s environmental impact

Warning sign #5: Overuse of green imagery and buzzwords

Companies often use green imagery and buzzwords to appear more environmentally friendly. Lots of pictures of trees, green colors, and words like ‘eco-friendly’ may be part of a company’s marketing strategy, but a true green venture relies on its actions, not just its marketing material.

For example, truly eco-friendly brands like JUST Water don’t only market their products as sustainable, they also back up their claims with provable research and charitable initiatives, choosing to include evidence of these efforts on their website.

Warning sign #6: Unsubstantiated claims

7 warning signs of greenwashing: How to identify authentic environmental commitment

Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

Companies often make claims about their products or practices that are either hard to verify or too good to be true; such unsubstantiated claims can be a big red flag when it comes to the possibility of greenwashing.

Warning sign #7: Lesser of two evils

Lastly, watch out for the smoke-and-mirrors ‘lesser of two evils’ tactic. Some companies thank themselves for being ‘less bad’ rather than truly good; just because a product uses less plastic doesn’t mean it’s truly green, especially if it still harms the environment in other ways.

How to support authentic environmental commitment

We all play essential roles in fostering the health of our environment, and one way we can contribute is by supporting authentic, eco-friendly companies. Here, we’ll expand on some existing strategies and introduce fresh ones, all in an effort to enhance our support for these green companies.

  • Evidence matters: Asking for proof should be our first step; genuinely green companies are proud of their environmental achievements. Looking for official certifications, third-party audits, or awards can give us confidence in a company’s commitment to our planet
  • Clear language: Seek companies with transparency; do they clearly articulate their environmental initiatives? Authentic businesses won’t hide behind jargon; they lay it out simply for everyone to comprehend—young or old
  • Research: Following these, we should do our own research. Search the Internet diligently; reviews, news articles, and blogs can sometimes reveal if a company’s environmental image is just a façade

Furthermore, here are extra strategies to help us further our mission:

  • Boycott greenwashing companies: Choose not to purchase from companies engaged in greenwashing; hit them where it hurts—their profits
  • Spread awareness: Share your knowledge with friends, family, and social media followers. Send out newsletters to spread awareness via emails. Use an email newsletter software to create beautifully designed newsletters that compel people to read them or a post scheduler to help you promote the companies you trust and warn others of the greenwashers.

7 warning signs of greenwashing: How to identify authentic environmental commitment

Photo by Thirdman

  • Consumer power: Use your power as a consumer. For instance, when looking for custom products, consider choosing businesses that prioritize sustainable materials and eco-friendly production methods, thereby contributing to a greener and more responsible industry. Show support by buying products or services from genuine green companies
  • Local patronage: Patronize local, environmentally-conscious businesses when possible. Local usually means less transport and, subsequently, less environmental impact
  • Suggest environmentally-friendly alternatives: If companies you favor aren’t green, suggest eco-friendly alternatives they can implement
  • Ask for paperless options: Choose digital invoices, receipts or statements when available—it’s a small contribution towards reducing paper waste
  • Support community initiatives: Participate in local environmental initiatives or campaigns
  • Report the greenwashers: Report misleading environmental claims to local business bureaus or consumer protection agencies
  • Support recycling: Purchase products made from recycled materials
  • Spread the word: Sharing your journey can inspire others too; they can learn from your story, and further identify for themselves if a company is greenwashing
  • Contribute by working: if you are truly passionate about keeping our environment clean and healthy, you can search for a job as environmental officer. This way you will be the one who ensures that an organization is in compliance with environmental regulations and standards related to pollution and waste management.

Final thoughts

Spotting greenwashing isn’t easy, but it’s crucial!

With these warning signs, we’re ready to make wise choices; let’s support eco-friendly, authentic businesses. Remember, every one of our actions count towards the bigger picture.

Our choices can make a huge difference. Indeed, we each play a crucial part in safeguarding our environment; we must actively support pure green actions. 

Marian Domingo
I am an aspiring writer. I mostly do freelance writing about social media, digital marketing, eCommerce and tech. When I'm not sending emails and writing content, you can find me in the kitchen whipping up a new dish.


The important role of media monitoring in market intelligence

The important role of media monitoring in market intelligence

Have you thought about how businesses seem to always be one step ahead of the game? The answer lies in a hidden yet powerful tool: media monitoring.  Today, in order for businesses to obtain a competitive advantage, media monitoring has become crucial. However, how do...