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Guest Blog: The Art of Greenwashing

Guest Blog: The Art of Greenwashing

March 07, 2019 2 Comments

Welcoming creative intern, Chelsea Bitonio to the THTC team with her first blog - a real tour de force! What is Greenwashing? Why do some companies lie to us? And what can we do to stop the continued plunder of the planet for profit? 

I remember those days when I had a tenner in my pocket and excitement coursing through my veins as I entered Primark. Arm in arm with my friends, we would cross through every aisle, searching for the perfect bits and bobs to wear. A knitted jumper, ripped jeans, shiny earrings and a purse was dropped into the shopping cart. We always had a good laugh in Primark, amazed by how affordable every item was. Being fifteen, young minded and spirited, with no job and little income was the motto of that time, a motto shared between friends. We had no money, no job and was heavily dependent on our parent’s pockets.

So, when a brand offered cheap, alternative prices to clothing that was also fashionable, what fifteen-year-old wouldn’t hop onto that train? I soon found myself caught in the web of purchasing affordable clothing with no thought whatsoever of how or who made the denim jeans or the studded belt I wore. At fifteen, I was never conscious about how the world worked and who, in the end, was exploited.

Now being twenty, having grown up in a world filled with corruption and exploitation, I’ve realised how conscious a mind can become. At each counter of every store, I stop and think, where is my money going to? Who is it benefiting the most? The company or the workers? The pockets of CEOs living life without a worry or starving labourers working hours unimaginable.

It takes seconds for a decision to be made. I always try to make sure mine is the right one.

Art of the Spiel

Greenwashing has become an art form and we’re stuck painting its corrupted canvas.

Greenwashing, in simple terms, is where companies use marketing in a way that misleads their consumers by claiming that their products are environmentally friendly, safe and non-toxic, yet in reality they are far from these claims.

Take a well-known diaper brand such as Huggies for example. When my brother was born, my mum stocked up on nappies, buying thousands, ready for the new born baby. The packaging, so green and leafy, evoked feelings of safety and comfort for my mum, because she knew she’d be helping the environment whilst making sure my brother’s bottom was comfortable and soft. Their “Pure and Natural” diaper, made from soft organic cotton was perfect, it had functional elements but was also hypoallergenic, perfect for every child’s everyday needs, added in with some aloe and vitamin e. As a parent, how can you not want to purchase this for your little bundle of joy?

However in 2015, it was revealed that a class action was filed against Kimberly-Clark, the producer of Huggies, complaining on the grounds of 'greenwashing'. It was stated that there were no initial differences between Huggies standard diapers and Huggies “Pure and Natural”. The one difference was the small piece of organic cotton on the outside of the diaper, one that doesn’t even touch the baby’s skin. To add more fuel to the fire, the diapers were found to contain non-organic additives such as polypropylene and sodium polyacrylate. You could understand the outrage from parents upon hearing this news.  My mum was livid. For years she had thought she was helping the environment with sustainable products and yet, she was wrong.

This is just one of the many examples of how a known company can twist a product’s packaging appearance or marketing scheme, to align with a consumer’s core beliefs. They trap you into a web of social cause campaigns, purpose and value statements, all proving to be misguided, hollow and wrong. 

It could be said that some brands prey on people who hold certain social values. With the notion of 'brand purpose' making a rise, an increasing amount of companies attempt to focus their marketing on showing how sustainable and environmentally friendly they can be, which, understandably causes a little scepticism amongst consumers. Who knows if companies are putting their words into action, if that neat, green little packaging is 100% recyclable or if their women’s right campaign resonates with their gender pay?

Greenwashing is a major issue, it is not only bad for the environment, but it is also an attack on you as an individual. It encourages you buy services and products under the assumption that you are benefiting the natural world and honest, hard-working people. 

Greenwashing the Emissions by Giacomo Cardelli

Don’t Be Fooled

There are many tools used in greenwashing that you should watch out for. Here are a few examples:

  • Press releases about future green projects - instead of writing about current initiatives and achievements;
  • 'Task forces' being put in place to make the factory or working environment better, instead of enacting already existing and agreed upon frameworks;
  • Rebranding products to showcase recyclable and sustainable materials;
  • Inaccessible information to back up a company's green claims.

Learn How to Avoid

Now, how do you avoid spiralling into the web that is greenwashing?

  • Make sure to do your research, dip deeper before buying a product or service, despite its claims of being ‘eco-friendly’ or ‘natural’ it may not also be so black and white.
  • Shop with business you can trust. If they provide you with relevant information on how and when they pay their workers, or where their materials were sourced from, then by all means, shop on.
  • Don’t assume that a product is eco-friendly because a label on the front tells you so, make sure you’re armed with scepticism and questions. It’s better to have doubts about where a product was produced then exploit that very worker.
  • Beware of fancy words because ‘organic’, ‘green’ ‘low-impact’, ‘low emissions’ are all nice words but do they really do the job? Look beyond these words and see if they’re justified.
  • Take into consideration if a brand or business sponsors a green event for one day or a short period of time, does that make their product environmentally friendly every purchase? Every time it’s produced or bought, does it benefit or help the environment or workers in any way?

Greenwashing has been around for a long time, it has become an art form, perfected by companies who manipulate their advertising to appeal to your values. They know how to twist a mind and appear green, but what good does lying about being green do for the world and its people? The world has changed, people are becoming conscious consumers, spotting the tell tale tricks of greenwashing and buying from trusted brands.

Which brings up the question, is it possible to have ethical consumption under capitalism?

Now, ethical consumption is when people attempt to spend their money in a way where nobody is exploited. Is that possible under capitalism? Because, along the line, you learn that somewhere, somehow, someone will be exploited, even without it being your intention.

The best way to avoid exploitation is to reduce consumption, yet under a capitalist world, a system built on continual economic growth, does not sound believable or doable. In one essence, it cannot be possible to reduce spending and consumption because the world relies on purchasing and buying. The world revolves around money but as people are becoming conscious consumers, there may be a time where everyone benefits from profit and no one is exploited.

Chelsea Bitonio Bio: 

A socially awkward twenty-year-old who has a tendency to overspend, oversleep and overcompensate. With that being said, hi I’m Chelsea. I like to think of myself as a creative and driven person, hoping to achieve greatness in the advertising industry, one day being able to change the world through design and writing.

2 Responses

Sebastian Stewart
Sebastian Stewart

June 06, 2019

A very interesting and important topic in our day and age. I absolutely agree with this blog and it has triggered me to think more about of these points you have mentioned. Nice bio by the way Chelsea, it made me laugh!


June 06, 2019

Cannot agree more! As a small business starting out with all the best intentions and plans to be sustainable

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