Ensure your company isn't damaging customers' trust by greenwashing – making false claims that your company or products are environmentally friendly.


Greenwashing examples

You may have noticed the world becoming more eco-friendly in recent years — or at least, so it would appear. But if you’ve ever picked up a product because the packaging had the word “natural” on it or looked recycled, you may have been a victim of greenwashing.
Zero Emission Cars

Car manufacturers praise the environmental bravery of their electric, hybrid or fuel-efficient models in terms of greenhouse gas emissions. Unfortunately, these companies 'forget' to report the origin of the materials used to generate the cars in the first place, the origins of the energy required to charge the cars and the rather polluting lithium-ion batteries. In recent years some manufacturers have been in the spotlight for cheating on their carbon dioxide pollution results.

100% Recyclable Plastic Bottles

More often now you will come across plastic bottles labelled as 100% recyclable. Although technically true, that does not make them eco-friendly or mean that they will be 100% recycled. Most plastic bottles are made of PET, which is recyclable and widely reused. Unfortunately, most of these bottles will not be recycled into new plastic bottles, and even if they were plastic bottles can only be recycled 2-3 times as the properties of the plastic degrade each time it is recycled. So creating a 100% recyclable plastic bottles loop is difficult. There are however new technologies and plant-based plastic-like bottles are beginning to emerge on the scene.

A Green or Natural Label

You may have noticed that some of your favourite brands have changed their label colour to green. Sometimes the label is not green, but instead it has a natural cardboard like colour, or the packaging has changed to include more natural appearing materials like cork or cord to give the impression of being recycled or eco-friendly. This is a marketing technique which gives the impression of a product or service being eco-friendly. The way items are packaged and presented can subconsciously influence buying behaviour by greenwashing consumers and tricking them into believing that items are eco-friendly, when in reality they are the same product as before.

'Green' Language

Keep an eye out for words which sound good at first, but have no concrete legal meaning. Some examples are ‘natural’, ‘eco-friendly’, ‘alternative’, or ‘farm-fresh’.


Good signs

  • Accountability: Truly sustainable brands are those that are transparent about how they’re affecting the environment. Look for annual reports and statistics on their websites.
  • Accreditation: Don’t just take brands’ words for it. Look for companies that are audited or accredited by third parties – to be awarded things like B Corporation status or Fairtrade certifications.
  • Clear labelling: Truly sustainable products should include simple language labels about exactly what materials or ingredients are in a product – and how they’re sourced. Claims should always be precise and clear.
  • Traceability: Some forward-thinking brands have been helping buyers track their products’ sustainability using helpful tech. As a case in point, sustainable fashion brands are using QR codes for supply chain traceabilitywhich is worth checking out. 

On Greenwashing


Don't rush carbon neutrality claims

Reducing carbon emissions takes time. By developing a strategy you can map out your journey to net zero or even aim to becoming carbon negative. Although it might be tempting to rush announcements for your organisations carbon neutrality, be aware that today's consumers value honesty. They are conscious, aware and educated. False claims will eventually backfire. Disclosing your plans and where you are on your journey can generate more customer buy in, than a claim which is distracting from reality. You can follow the Green House Gas Protocol for guidance, which will ensure that your organisation follows global standards.


Avoid vague language

Buzzwords such as “green,” “natural,” and “environmentally friendly” become more common. Unfortunately, these communicate little about the environmental impact of a product or service. Avoid ambiguous terminology by including more detail. For example, instead of saying made of recyclable materials, specify the percentage used 80% recyclable materials. Consumers value specifics.

Be aware of inadvertent greenwashing. Terms like biodegradable, plastic-free, or compostable might sound harmless but actually are regulated definitions. Misuse of these could result in a lawsuit. Consumers won’t care if you “didn’t mean to” mislead them; they’ll simply care that you did.


Not everything will be perfect immediately

Organisations must hold themselves accountable for their emissions, part of this is honest communication with consumers. Sharing your process and limitations does not only build trust, but can also lead to finding solutions to the seemingly impossible and engage your audience.