Man in suit holds a transparent image of earth with windmills and solar panels

What Is Greenwashing?

The increasing trend of eco-businesses motivates customers to buy products that are environment-friendly and do not harm nature in the longer run. This consumer shift to environmental consciousness is also compelling companies to change their traditional approach to eco-friendly. Green business is becoming a new strategy and has opened a new favorable market for customers who love the environment. This demand for green business and products has raised the number of companies that advertise their products as sustainable. 

Nielsen reported that 66% of global consumers were keen to pay more to a sustainable brand, keeping in view the threats of climate change it sounds promising. But in reality, the brands are not always following sustainable practices, and sometimes they are just fooling customers with their marketing techniques. Most claims of such brands are suspicious and have led to increased greenwashing in the market. 

What is Greenwashing?

9 volt battery has greenwashing written on it

Greenwashing is the practice of misleading consumers with unrealistic facts by advertising the products as sustainable and eco-friendly. It is about making people believe the company is working more towards the environment than it actually is.

It depicts the dishonest and fraudulent marketing of the particular company and the environmental impact of its products. Such companies spend more money advertising their products as sustainable to the users rather than spending money for such practices. 

Greenwashing had been in practice from around the 1960s during anti-nuclear movements. But the term was first used by Jay Westerveld in 1986 against hotels that lacked environmental initiatives and encouraged their customers to re-use towels. Over the last twenty years, greenwashing techniques changed a lot, but it is still in practice as the world is shifting more towards sustainable and environment-friendly practices. 

How to Spot Greenwashing

man looking through a magnifying glass with a pipe.

In 2015, Futerra Selling Sustainability Report highlighted the marketing strategies used by companies for greenwashing. They are meaningful and give accurate clues to watch for greenwashing. It includes:

Vague Language

The words and terms used on the product have no clear meaning. The statements like the products are eco-friendly, the meaning behind used all natural products in manufacturing are not clear.

Green Products versus Dirty Companies

It shows that a company produces green products but follow other unsustainable practices. An example can be energy-efficient light bulbs manufactured in a factory that pollutes rivers.

Suggestive Images

The imagery used in product marketing shows it in an environment-friendly way, but they are not. For example, flowers are blooming from exhaust pipes or green leaves in graphics to show the environmental aspect. 

Irrelevant Claims

Use of words like free of claims, suggests that the product does not contain any harmful substance. Often it is mentioned that the product is made with recyclable items or is biodegradable.

Best in the class

It means advertising your company as the best in comparison to others in the market. Brands often promote themselves as the most sustainable and eco-friendly, when in reality, all of them are doing the same things. Degrading other brands to increase your customer image is also a tactic of greenwashing. 


It includes adding information only a scientist can verify. An example is mentioning beauty products as Chemical-free. Although, nothing can be chemical-free, and only a laboratory test can prove it. 

Imaginary Friends

It means involving third-party organizations in proving eco-friendly claims. An example can be issuing fraudulent green certificates to a company to prove their claims.

No Evidence

It shows that the company has made multiple claims, but there is no proof to support them. 

Outright Lies

The company has manipulated data or giving fabricated claims for the given product. 

Examples of Greenwashing

paper clip holding a sign that says eco product

There are multiple examples of greenwashing in which famous brands falsely interpreted sustainability to their advantage. It can be in their packaging, irrelevant claims, graphics, false certificates, or lack of evidence. Five of the greenwashing examples by companies are:


Volkswagen is a famous car manufacturing company that discovered in a diesel dupe. In 2015, Environment Protection Agency caught that the company had sold approximately 11 million vehicles in seven years that changed car performance and increased carbon and nitrogen emissions. The emissions from these vehicles were 10 to 40 times above the legal limit. The CEO admitted the claims and resigned by saying they broke the trust of customers. Due to this situation company suffered a financial loss of around 31.3 billion euros. 


In 2019, Shell, a leading global oil supplier, announced an investment in a natural ecosystem worth $300 million as a measure against climate change. It will reduce the amount of carbon dioxide in the environment and act as mitigation measures for climate change. But Shell contradicted the mitigation efforts promoted by them in their energy provider projects. The company claims that it produces 100% renewable energy but discovered signing investment worth billions in non-renewable energy sources from their oil and gas sector. Shell portrayed itself as an environmentally responsible company by buying green certificates and natural climate solutions. But the majority of its investment is in the fossil fuel industry, and it clearly can be argued as an act of greenwashing. 


Plastic water bottles are the worst for environmental degradation. In 2008 Nestle advertised that it produced low plastic single-use water bottles to reduce environmental impact. They wanted to come as an environmentally responsible product in the world. They introduced it with the name Pure Life and bottle with Eco-Shape by claiming that it uses 15-30% less plastic. The claims of low plastic were in comparison to all other plastic-producing bottles of soda and water. No matter how responsibly they produce, it is still plastic for single-use which can harm the environment for years. So the company used irrelevant words to advertise itself as a sustainable product.  


In 2019, Ryan Air advertised itself as the most carbon-efficient airline with the lowest carbon emission by any major airline in Europe. Flying is a carbon-intensive activity so, airlines often promote environment-friendly initiatives. But Ryan Air’s claim of being the lowest carbon emission in Europe was questionable. Advertising Standards Authority said these claims were misleading by citing previous records and stated the fact that the company did not include some other well-known European airlines in comparison.

It is an example of greenwashing in which Ryan Air self-represented itself as the most carbon-efficient airline without any logical evidence. Although the company continued using unsustainable practices which can exploit the environment-conscious consumers under false claims.


Tide Liquid is a cleaning detergent, which used suggestive imagery to pretend the brand is environment friendly. The advertisement of the product shows the product like recycled cardboard with healthy green trees. Also, the product description states that this formula uses 100% wind energy for production. Getting in further detail, it mentions the 50% use of steam power which is generated via coal and is not a renewable source of energy production. Hence the claims of 100% renewable energy are incorrect in reality. 

Also, the product packaging was not environment-friendly, and it used distracting graphics and words. It is the most common example of greenwashing done by multiple brands. It shows too much of the eco-friendly and green representation in the images is most probably greenwashing. 

Final Thoughts 

Seniors buying groceries at a local looking grocery store

Products with lots of sustainable and eco-friendly claims is a good indication of greenwashing. Consumers should be skeptical about such a product and analyze it by checking the website for further details. The environment conscious brand always include relevant data to support the claims, so the more specific a brand it has less vague statements. An eco-friendly brand is always transparent as they happily share all the details about the sustainable steps. 

There will be third-party organizations that verify the brand claims of environment-friendly strategies to avoid misleading customers. Companies always mention such certificates like food products uses USDA Organic, appliances or electronics include EnergyStar. These accreditations are not always correct or mean the product is eco-friendly or sustainable, but they help in identifying the fraudulent claims. 

Hence greenwashing is everywhere, and the best way for customers to avoid falling in it is by increased consumer knowledge, brand accountability, and knowing the ethical industry rules. It will help in making informed and environmentally conscious decisions about using money at the right place. Even eco-friendly brands use lots of energy for production. Therefore the best way to reduce carbon footprint is to buy less and use something you already own to lessen your environmental impact and save the planet.


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