29 March 2022

Greenwashing: the “feigned environmentalism” that we surely do not need

Proclaiming oneself as eco-friendly and certifying this on the label is the new frontier of misrepresenting zero-impact procedures. A riot of green leaves, a shower of “organic or bio", "green" and "natural" stamps that confuse, obscure and cover up reality. Here's how to recognise the deception and stem the consequences.

Under the entry greenwashing, you can now read the definition “giving an inconsistent flavour to a decidedly toxic and poisonous dish”.

Preserving the environment, reducing emissions, reducing consumption and producing responsibly are priority objectives in the conversations of all, but true realities in the lives of only a few.

There is no brand that has not glimpsed the greedy opportunity to earn (let's say it as it is: to make a profit) from the growing sensitivity to climate change.

Organic and bio products bloom at every corner, 100% green lines spring up like mushrooms… but unfortunately the dark side of misleading advertising is often hidden under the glitter of sustainability.

Greenwashing: origin of the term that winks at the attentive consumer

To understand the phenomena, reading the words carefully is often enough. Greenwashing is nothing more than the fusion of two terms that mean “green” and “wash”. Green is universally considered the colour of ecology, and washing is the best way to hide the evidence.

How could we translate this expression into Italian?

Well, in more or less literal ways. Feigned ecologism, apparent environmentalism, to affect an unmotivated sustainable air, to boast of green sensibility… as you prefer, we are open to proposals.

And to whom do we owe the invention of this term, now sadly part of the common language? Jay Westerveld, a US environmentalist who used it in the mid-1980s to define the work of hotel chains that used the “environmental impact” argument to prevent guests from requesting laundry too frequently.

The reason was obviously economic… the explanation falsely ethical.

In the 90s this practice intensified, until now it has become an omnipresent refrain in our daily lives.

 

Greenwashing - Oway campaign

Read the warnings between the lines (and handle the risks with care)

Let's face it: companies, unfortunately, try it on.

False environmental credibility is a chimera for many brands, especially for those who do not have the strength of facts on their side.

They are faced by consumers who are increasingly attentive, informed and motivated to make responsible choices, while behind they have the result of years and years of aggressive, globalised and intensive production approaches, from which it is difficult to distance themselves. 

The quickest solution is to paint over this and give it a coat of “green”. And hope that no one insists on scratching to see what's underneath.

However, there are some emergency lights that can turn our attention on, leading us to open our eyes. The first obvious signs are:

  1. a language that is deliberately vague, or too scientific to be usable;
  2. a partial communication, which spotlights one single aspect of production and 'forgets' to account for all the others;
  3. an avalanche of self-certifications, which companies self-award themselves without these being endorsed by Independent Bodies.

Noticing these clumsy attempts at omission is already a good starting point for not being fooled.

 

Greenwashing - Oway campaign

How much (and how) does greenwashing harm us?

Once you have learned these little tips to recognise it, the problem seems to be solved.

And why instead is this phenomenon still a danger for the sustainable development of the market? first of all, because it is elusive and complex to counter.

And then because, let's face it, the problem does not lie with the consumers and their increasingly fine-tuned level of sensitivity. The dilemma is what lies behind that misleading message, as well as the responsibility of all those involved at different levels of the production chain.

If greenwashing becomes a way to distract, to remove the gaze from bad production practices, the logical consequence is that those processes will continue to exist without any real evolution in favour of the environment.

Where it is the Italian Competition Authority which supervises misleading advertising at a national level, it is the consumer who risks being most damaged by the bombardment of incomplete and inaccurate information.

And the biggest failure will be the inability to change our course, leaving the planet at the mercy of its irreversible climate change.

 

Oway against greenwashing

Oway isn't green… it really is

A strong statement? Yes, because it is true.

To achieve change, you have to move first, and this is what we have always done. Without waiting to be set a good example.

You must have the courage to look at the actual data and choose how to act. Without any compromise.

 

Plastic always pollutes.

Bioplastic is plastic.

Recycled plastic is short-lived.

Secondary packaging, in most cases, is unnecessary.

Ecological alternatives to polluting materials exist.

 

Platitudes? We hope so.

 

Launching a product based on plant-based ingredients when everything else in the range is synthetic, is not enough. Nor using the words “organic or bio", "green", "natural", if that product is then enclosed in plastic bottles that are toxic for the environment.

Consistency is the winning formula and transparency is in the formulas. Yes… but in all of them!

 

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