Greenwashing In The Age of Climate Activism

Brands can stop greenwashing by doing the work needed to become more sustainable companies. Author: Jasmine Lowe, Vkind Communication Specialist

What Is Greenwashing? 

Greenwashing happens when companies claim to be environmentally conscious for marketing purposes but actually aren’t making any notable sustainability efforts. They may slap a label on a product to claim that they have changed their formula in order to make more sustainable choices when, in reality, the ingredient list is the same. Greenwashing is all about claiming to do something that they are not doing. They want to appear green and sustainable, but they don’t put in the effort needed to be a sustainable company. Many have heard of whitewashing when someone intentionally hides some kind of wrongdoing or unpleasant situation. It happens when people try to lessen a bad situation or make something appear better than it actually is. Organizations may cover up or gloss over scandalous information by presenting a biased representation of the facts, like a coat of white paint being plastered over a stain to brighten a room. Greenwashing is similar in the sense that companies act under false pretenses to make themselves appear better than they actually are. The term “greenwashing” was coined in 1986 in an essay by environmentalist Jay Westerveld that spoke about the “save the towel” movement in hotels. Westerveld highlighted that hotels actually had little effect using the practice of forgoing stocking new towels in guests’ rooms beyond saving them money in laundry costs. Greenwashing flourished during this time when most consumers received their news primarily from television, radio, and print media and couldn’t fact-check in the same way we can today.

How Does Greenwashing Affect Consumerism?

Lying and falsifying information have consequences. Consumers are becoming more mindful and active in researching company practices and are spotting lies on their own. With a push of a button, the average conscious consumer can determine the impact of a company’s business doings on the environment. As a result of greenwashing exposure, many consumers do not believe company claims about their sustainability practices. Companies may even greenwash when they have good intentions. However, the damage and breakdown of trust are already seeded, which leads to poor brand relations and a tarnished image. Greenwashing happens when an organization spends more time and money on marketing itself as environmentally friendly rather than actually minimizing its environmental impact. Consumers view this as a deceitful marketing gimmick intended to mislead those who prefer to buy goods and services from environmentally conscious brands. Many consumers view this falsification as a valid reason for swearing off a brand indefinitely.

How Do We Stop Greenwashing?

People recognize concern for the climate both in the US and abroad, and many are taking steps in their own lives to mitigate their impact on the environment. Between 66 and 80 percent of Americans support climate change mitigation policies, according to research published this year in the journal Nature Communications. The Pew Research Center also published a survey around the same period which reported a median of 75 percent across 19 countries in North America, Europe, and the Asia-Pacific region labeling global climate change as a major threat. There has even been a 71 percent rise in online searches for sustainable goods globally, according to The Economist Intelligence Unit. The environment is important to the majority of consumers, and they are seeking brands that match their morals and beliefs. Brands can stop greenwashing by doing the work needed to become more sustainable companies. Consumers can look to trusted third-party sites and applications that list brands that take corporate social responsibility and their impact on the environment seriously. In addition, brands and organizations can aid consumers in this research by listing their organizations on apps like Vkind. Vkind is already doing the work to bring companies that are actually green together with mindful consumers on the hunt for more sustainable services. Our mission is to make a sustainable future and practices, such as veganism, accessible by bringing together environmentally conscious and vegan products, professionals, businesses, and services in one easy-to-navigate platform. You can learn more about Vkind’s app and work toward a sustainable future by visiting

Works Cited:

Becker-Olsen, K., Potucek, S. (2013). Greenwashing. In: Idowu, S.O., Capaldi, N., Zu, L., Gupta, A.D. (eds) Encyclopedia of Corporate Social Responsibility. Springer, Berlin, Heidelberg.  Sparkman, G., Geiger, N. & Weber, E.U. Americans experience a false social reality by underestimating popular climate policy support by nearly half. Nat Commun 13, 4779 (2022). Spring 2022 Global Attitudes Survey. Q10a-e. “Climate Change Remains Top Global Threat Across 19-Country Survey.” World Wildlife Foundation. 17 May 2021. Search for Sustainable Goods Grows by 71% As ‘Eco-Wakening’ Grips the Globe.



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