Six types of greenwashing you may not have heard of

Find out which companies and organizations have already made some communication errors.

3 min to read
Written by: Mia Musulin

Greenwashing activities range from misplaced strategies for communicating products or services to practices emphasizing sustainable activities to distract audiences from environmentally harmful policies. Due to different approaches to greenwashing and according to the Planet Tracker report from the beginning of this year, we define six types of undesirable communication with consumers. We present them below with examples from practice:

 

Greencrowding is based on the idea that hiding in a group of other companies can keep environmentally harmful activities unnoticed. One example is the activities of the Alliance to End Plastic Waste (AEPW) activities, which collaborates with petrochemical giants whose members still need to recycle 99.9% of their plastic waste.

 

Greenlighting are activities that shed light on the practice of less “green” activities to divert attention from environmentally harmful ones. Examples include manufacturers who boast of decarbonizing techniques while simultaneously increasing plastic pollution and using environmentally unfriendly resources. For example, The Hongkong and Shanghai Banking Corporation boasted that they allocated one billion US dollars to plant two million trees. Still, their contribution to carbon emissions in other aspects of the business also came to light. Another example refers to the famous chain of clothing stores, H&M. Their appeal to customers to return their discarded clothes to the shops for recycling ultimately encourages them to buy new items, which is contrary to sustainability principles.

 

Greenshifting refers to situations where companies try to shift the blame for their unsustainable operations onto someone else. The British Petroleum Company (BP) launched the “Know Your Carbon Footprint” campaign, asking their consumers to use the app every day, i.e., calculate their carbon footprint to reduce it (while not mentioning their CO2 emissions).

 

Some companies use greenlabeling, a practice in which companies mislead consumers by claiming that some of their products are environmentally friendly. KLM – Royal Dutch Airlines claims that its carbon credit program, CO2ZERO, completely neutralizes the impact of flying on the environment. However, sustainability experts argue that products like CO2ZERO do nothing to limit the environmental damage associated with flying.

 

The report also highlights the growth of greenrinsing, which occurs when companies change climate and sustainability goals. In this context, Planet Tracker highlighted PepsiCo, which has moved its recycling goals in the past five years three times. It is important to note that PepsiCo often sets unrealistic goals for stopping deforestation. In addition to moving them forward, they work with suppliers involved in destroying the most important rainforests in Southeast Asia in the Leuser ecosystem.

 

Greenhushing refers to companies that underreport or hide their sustainability data. A well-known example of it is Coca-Cola’s “PlantBottle,” made from only 30% plant materials. The company claims the bottle is more environmentally friendly than the traditional plastic bottle, but since it is still mostly made from non-renewable fossil fuels, that claim is not true.

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