by Lola
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Unfortunately, not everything that contains the word “green” in its name means good for the environment. People can easily be misled by “eco-friendly” product labels, which are often neither sustainable nor harmless to the environment. This is exactly what we mean by the term greenwashing. 

Greenwashing: What does it mean?

Greenwashing, aka “green sheen” is a marketing spin, more precisely a form of marketing and PR propaganda that can be seen in various advertising campaigns and even in product design. It aims to misrepresent an organisation, product or service as more environmentally friendly than it actually is. In this way, companies are able to attract more interest from potential customers who want to lead a sustainable lifestyle. 

The term derives from “whitewashing” and slightly differs from the so-called greenscamming and greenspeak. Greenwashing and greenscamming use the element of deception in order to portray an organisation’s activity as eco-friendly or to cover up policies and actions, which are harmful to the environment. On the other hand, although with similar motives, greenspeak is a slightly more neutral term. When a company or organisation “speaks green”, it means that it uses environmental language to falsely represent itself as sustainable. Here you can find more detailed information about greenwashing and its nuances.

Why is Greenwashing a problem?

Well, there really is no need to explain why misleading people is wrong, however, greenwashing can lead to even bigger problems. Giving false information to conscientious customers about the sustainability of a product negatively affects their views on the idea of shopping and even living environmentally friendly. When people feel betrayed, it is normal for them to lose faith in the cause. Nowadays living sustainably is not an easy task and if you fall victim to greenwashing, you are more likely to say to yourself: “There is no point.” and give up.

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Another very serious issue with greenwashing is that it can directly cause damage to the environment. When, for example, a company slaps a “biodegradable” label on a product that is not, you can guess what happens. Eventually, people will treat the product as biodegradable and will throw it away as bio compostable waste. This way it will not break down effectively and will end up harming the environment.

What is more, greenwashing can turn into a problem even for the companies that are using this marketing spin. It can have the opposite effect, leading not only to a loss of trust from customers but also to scandals and lawsuits. In general, greenwashing can be detrimental to all parties involved.

Examples of Greenwashing

Greenwashing is an increasingly common problem and there are numerous examples of it:


Let’s take a look at the green sheen history of McDonald’s, which is unsurprisingly rich. In 2009 the giant company changed the background colour of its logos in Europe from red to green. This way McDonald’s wants to appear more environmentally friendly to the public eye. In 2019 they introduced paper straws that eventually turned out to be non-recyclable. And in 2021 McDonald’s announced that they are going to reach net-zero emissions by 2050 and accordingly were accused of greenwashing. 

It is a well-known fact that the company is not exactly the greenest, having in mind that they are the largest user of beef in the world. Animal husbandry releases harmful emissions, which have a major contribution to the climate change crisis, more specifically the greenhouse effect. But that is not all. McDonald’s has a practice of using tons of unnecessary packaging that ends up polluting the environment. If you want to find out more about livestock breeding and its impact on the environment, read this article.


Before we begin talking about the Coca-Cola company, one thing should be clear – they are the largest plastic polluter worldwide. Considering this, the company recently made a commitment publicly, that they would get every single bottle back by 2030 and recycle them. Of course, not long after this statement, a lawsuit was filed against Coca-Cola for their exaggerated and almost impossible promise, which makes them look more environmentally responsible than they actually are.


Another ridiculous greenwashing case is Starbucks. In 2018, the company introduced a lid with a built-in plastic straw as a response to the high-profile problem of plastic pollution. However, it turned out that the new straw-less lid contained more plastic than the original lid and straw combo. Starbucks must be acknowledged that this time at least the plastic was recyclable. Although, critics say that if something is recyclable it does not necessarily mean that people will recycle it.

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Are regulations helping us? 

There are different regulations for greenwashing around the world and different countries have different conceptions about those regulations. For example, the body that deals with greenwashing in the European Union is the European Anti-Fraud Office (OLAF). It handles investigations related to sustainability problems. Counterfeiting harmful to the environment products and services is one of the many issues OLAF regulates. This also includes greenwashing, greenscamming and other deceitful practices that are misleading about the eco-friendliness of an organisation. 

On the other hand, in the USA things look a little different. The responsible body there is the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), which deals with environmental marketing claims. There are four green guidelines that give the right to the FTC to prosecute deceiving marketing techniques. However, the intention behind those guidelines is to be followed voluntarily and not to be enforced. 

How to avoid Greenwashing?

Undoubtedly, the best method to protect yourself from greenwashing is to do a little research before you buy something branded as “environmentally friendly”. Take a look at the sustainability claims of the organisation and if they seem too unspecific and vague, there is probably something fishy. Always look for more detailed information and certifications.

Try to stay sceptical and do not trust every “eco-friendly” label you see. Also do not be afraid to ask questions. If you are feeling doubtful about the sustainability of a certain product, reach out to the company and learn more about their claims. Something very important that you should pay attention to is the organisation’s transparency. Real environmentally friendly companies are always transparent with their actions and practices. 

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Another thing that is definitely a red light when it comes to greenwashing is green claims, which are not supported by facts. Just because there is a label that says “eco-friendly” does not mean that the product is necessarily sustainable. On the contrary, it is common for such eye-catching claims to turn out to be a trap, aiming to attract more customers.

Just like any other type of disinformation, greenwashing is hard to avoid these days. Still, it is not impossible. You just need to learn to be more careful while shopping and to not blindly trust everything you see. Read, research, ask and inform yourself. This way you can successfully prevent becoming a victim of greenwashing. 

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