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Rising issues of greenwashing

Rising issues of greenwashing


n recent years, environmental consciousness has surged, spurred by concerns over climate change, pollution, and resource depletion. This has resulted in consumers increasingly demanding sustainable practices from corporations. However, amidst this trend, a disconcerting phenomenon has emerged – ‘greenwashing.’ This deceptive marketing tactic cloaks businesses in an illusion of eco-friendliness while often concealing environmentally harmful practices.

Greenwashing, a portmanteau of ‘green’ and ‘whitewashing,’ refers to the deceptive practice of conveying a false impression or providing misleading information about a company’s environmental practices. Rather than implementing substantive changes to reduce their environmental footprint, businesses engage in greenwashing to capitalize on the growing consumer demand for sustainability.

The United Nations states that “Greenwashing presents a significant obstacle to tackling climate change. By misleading the public to believe that a company or other entity is doing more to protect the environment than it is, greenwashing promotes false solutions to the climate crisis that distract from and delay concrete and credible action.”

Greenwashing presents itself through various tactics, some more noticeable than others, including:

— Claiming progress towards reducing a company’s polluting emissions to net zero without a credible plan in place

— Employing deliberate vagueness or lack of specificity regarding company operations or materials utilized

— Using intentionally misleading labels like ‘green’ or ‘eco-friendly,’ lacking standardized definitions and prone to misinterpretation

— Suggesting that a small change makes a big difference or advertising a product meeting basic regulations as much better than average

— Highlighting a singular environmental attribute while disregarding other impacts

— Claiming to avoid illegal or non-standard practices irrelevant to the product

— Separating the environmental benefits of a product from the overall brand activities, like promoting a garment made from recycled materials while ignoring the pollution caused by the high-emission factory where it is made, severely affecting nearby air and waterways

The reason is quite obvious. Human activities, emitting greenhouse gasses like carbon and methane, are causing significant pollution, resulting in a warming of the planet and severe consequences such as stronger storms, droughts, floods, and wildfires. To combat climate change and ensure a habitable Earth, emissions must be nearly halved by 2030 and brought down to net zero by 2050. Every small degree of warming is crucial, and as emphasized by the former chair of the High-Level Expert Group on Net-Zero Emissions Commitments of Non-State Entities, “the planet cannot afford delays, excuses, or more greenwashing.”

Catherine Mckenna quote: To avert a climate catastrophe, we need bold pledges but matches by concrete measurable action
Picture courtesy: un.org

Greenwashing undermines genuine efforts to cut emissions and tackle the climate crisis. By using deceptive marketing and false claims of sustainability, greenwashing misleads consumers, investors, and the public, eroding trust and hindering the necessary ambition and action required for global change and a sustainable future.

In 2023, the spotlight on greenwashing intensified as brands faced scrutiny for their exaggerated sustainability claims. Here are some key developments:

UNIC Tokyo Momoko Sato
Picture courtesy: news.un.org

In the Indian context, greenwashing has emerged as a pressing issue, particularly affecting sectors like FMCG, textiles, and home appliances. Transparency and accountability are often lacking, allowing greenwashing practices to thrive. However, there are considerable steps taken to fight against this grave issue which are making an impact in real time. Following are some of the regulatory measures taken by:

— Reserve Bank of India (RBI): The RBI is actively combating greenwashing in financial services. It aims to address exaggerated or unproven Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) claims that can erode market confidence in such products

Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI): ASCI has issued guidelines targeting green claims made via advertisements, aiming to curb misleading narratives

— Government Oversight: Regular green audits and stringent laws are essential to check deceptive practices and protect consumers

— Awareness: Educating consumers about the downsides of greenwashing empowers them to make informed choices in favor of genuinely sustainable products

Eco labling
Picture courtesy: ncpcsrilanka.org

In a significant move towards transparency and accountability, fashion giants Asos, Boohoo, and George at Asda have agreed to revamp their approach to environmental claims, following an investigation by the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA). These brands have committed to providing clear and specific information about their products’ environmental credentials, steering away from vague terms like ‘eco’ or ‘sustainable.’ Instead, they will disclose details such as the percentage of recycled or organic materials used in their clothing lines. Moreover, they’ll establish stringent criteria for labeling items as part of an environmental range, ensuring alignment with genuine sustainability standards.

This marks a pivotal moment in the industry, with CMA CEO Sarah Cardell emphasizing the importance of these agreements in restoring consumer confidence in green claims. As part of the deal, the brands will regularly report to the CMA on their compliance and internal processes, fostering accountability. Boohoo, for instance, expressed its commitment to providing accurate information and progressing its sustainability agenda, while Asos welcomed the move towards equal standards across the fashion sector. The overarching message is clear: the fashion industry must prioritize honesty and clarity in environmental messaging, setting a precedent for responsible marketing practices that benefit both consumers and the planet.

In an era where environmental concerns are at the forefront, the prevalence of greenwashing poses a significant challenge to both consumers and genuine sustainability efforts. By understanding the tactics employed in greenwashing, recognizing prevalent examples, and employing strategies for discernment, consumers can empower themselves to make informed choices and hold businesses accountable for their environmental claims.

Ultimately, combating greenwashing requires collective vigilance and a commitment to fostering genuine environment-friendly practices in both corporate and consumer behavior. Together, we can cultivate a future where sustainability is not just a marketing buzzword but a genuine commitment to preserving our planet for generations to come. Qalara’s values aim to endorse a global sustainable supply chain and help ethical brands stay true to their vision. Though we have a long way to go, we invite you to join us in this movement and fight against climate change bit by bit!

~ Written by Shambhavi