Greenwashing Cover Image
Today, the Climate Crisis is a well-acknowledged threat that people across the world have committed to improving. Over the past decade, as our planet’s environment has continued to deteriorate, the call for environmental sustainability from companies, leaders, and even individuals has increased tremendously.
Consumers have observed new environmentally-focused campaigns, product lines, initiatives, and commitments—in fact, “going green” seems to be quite the trend among businesses today. While some companies do demonstrate real effort towards sustainability, a lot of the time their promises of “eco-friendliness” go unfulfilled. These deceptive commitments may fool an unsuspecting consumer, but looking beyond large claims, fluffy words, and performative imagery, true progress is nowhere to be found. What coats these companies’ false assurances is a thick layer of greenwashing.

What is greenwashing? Why does it happen? Why is it undesirable? (And other questions you may have…)

By definition, greenwashing is when a company makes false, misleading, or unsubstantiated claims to being environmentally sustainable in their business practices and products. Marketing tactics and a deceptive “eco-friendly” appearance conceal false statements, a lack of evidence to support those statements, and a surface-level commitment to sustainability. Exploiting consumers’ increased demand for sustainability, greenwashing allows companies to increase their profits, sell their (often unsustainable) products and boost their image—all the while, avoiding any real improvements to their negative environmental actions.
Today, consumers are better armed with the knowledge and experience to detect greenwashing in a company’s promotions. As a business, it’s essential to understand that making the switch to real sustainable practices will help your business prosper and fulfill the needs of consumers and the Earth. Don’t contribute to “green” deception and climate change—set the standard for other businesses and lead the way to a better, more sustainable future. Switching to true sustainability can seem time-consuming, expensive, and burdensome; but, the risk is worth it to actively make a positive impact. Now, before understanding how to avoid greenwashing your brand, it’s necessary to learn how to spot it.

The 7 Green Sins (Common Indicators of Greenwashing)

1. Painting it Green
One of the most obvious indicators of greenwashing is when companies slather a thick layer of green paint across their marketing, promotions, product lines and more— “green paint”, meaning visuals that typically convey eco-friendliness. Think green logos, symbols like trees and plants, and other “natural” motifs, such as earth tones. While these indicators don’t always mean a company is greenwashing, it can be a good sign of performative eco-consciousness when they’re unaccompanied by real sustainable actions or evidence.
Painting it Green
Fluffing it Up
2. Fluffing it Up
Another frequent sign of greenwashing? Fluffing descriptions, statements, promotions and other materials with green buzzwords. We often see words like, “all-natural,” “biodegradable,” “sustainably made,” “ethically sourced,” “eco product,” “chemical-free,” “eco-conscious,” and “sustainable.” While some of these can be useful descriptors, they suffer from the curse of vagueness; when not accompanied by details and context, they can be deceiving and worthless to customers looking to understand a company’s initiatives.
3. The Green Campaign
We’ve all seen the “Green Campaign” rolled out by a large company to follow the sustainability movement. Perhaps it’s a green rebranding featuring the two greenwashing indicators above, a new product line, or a vague promise to create positive environmental action. The Green Campaign aims to position the company in a positive, eco-friendly light—but lacks the evidence or detail to back up any real actions. Usually, they feature some of the other indicators listed below.
The Green Campaign
Faking It
Image by New Leaf Paper Inc. via
4. Faking it
Sometimes, companies aren’t just being deceptive in their language and claims—they’re faking it altogether. With some greenwashed products, campaigns and initiatives, we see false labels and false certifications, including certifications by third parties that don’t exist. Some labels might say, “100% eco-certified,” “All natural ingredients,” “100% organic,” or “Bio-certified,” in a green logo with some plant icons and a large checkmark. In reality, these labels often aren’t even provided by an actual certified third-party that requires meeting certain criteria to become certified. Since fake labels can be tricky, do your best to learn which are legitimate (perhaps internationally recognized) certifications.
5. Lacking Proof

Alongside common greenwashing practices is almost always a lack of proof to support claims of environmental sustainability. While a company might make statements about their positive environmental impacts (e.g., reducing carbon emissions, or an eco-friendlier material in their products), without proof, they lose a lot of their credibility and trust from consumers. This proof could be in the form of scientific evidence, certified third-party support, or a detailed explanation. If this information is missing, hidden away out of the consumer’s sight, or extremely difficult to find, there’s a good chance that there’s some greenwashing going on.

Lacking Proof
Sneaky Deceptions
6. Sneaky Deceptions
Sometimes companies can be tricky with their greenwashing by using misleading or vague statements. Deceptive actions of sustainability could include calling a material “biodegradable” (which is an unclear term) or calling a product eco-friendly even though it’s made with only a small percentage of sustainable materials. Many greenwashers also make vague promises (e.g., “we’re working to improve our carbon footprint in the next year”); without specific details, timelines, and goals, it’s difficult to hold these companies accountable or monitor their real progress. Again, this is why proof and context are so important when describing sustainable practices.
7. Contradictory Behaviour
There’s nothing that ruins a business’s credibility and trustworthiness more than when it’s caught lying or contradicting itself repeatedly. These days, we see several companies showing amazing actions of sustainability in some ways, but forgoing all effort in other areas of their business. For example, a business that touts an eco-friendly, compostable product line shouldn’t give its customers those products in a plastic bag to go. A company cannot forget to implement sustainability in other essential parts of the supply chain like production, transportation, and labour. While a company may not be able to switch to sustainable alternatives in all areas at once, it should have a solid plan and commitments for the future if its environmental values are genuine.
Contradictory Behaviour

Approaching Greenwashing in Real Life

When examining a company’s green campaigns, initiatives, and marketing, don’t take it all at face value; ask questions, look for evidence of greenwashing, and seek out proof behind the company’s claims. Educate yourself on these common greenwashing practices, truly sustainable actions, and real environmental policies and certifications (perhaps specific to your country). Investigate the company and their actions further; are they major polluters? Do they have other environmentally sustainable initiatives? Are their actions consistently performative? Choose wisely which companies you’d like to support!
Avoiding Greenwashing as a Business

Next steps: Avoiding greenwashing as a business

Now that you know how to identify greenwashing and its effects, apply these lessons to your own business. If environmental sustainability is something you and your company value, ensure that your brand’s actions reflect this. Follow these key steps:
  • Be transparent and honest. This one is essential and connected to every key step. Transparency about sustainability efforts might be describing a concrete plan to reach certain goals, admitting limitations, and clearly detailing current sustainable practices. Misrepresenting or hiding information to the consumers almost always backfires—it’s not worth it to see consumers lose all trust, and for your business to face severe repercussions.
  • Test your own claims. This one is essential and connected to every key step. Transparency about sustainability efforts might be describing a concrete plan to reach certain goals, admitting limitations, and clearly detailing current sustainable practices. Misrepresenting or hiding information to the consumers almost always backfires—it’s not worth it to see consumers lose all trust, and for your business to face severe repercussions.
  • Get a third-party verification.This can be a difficult feat, but the outcome is worth it. A third-party certification shows consumers that your company has put in effort to support its sustainable values and acts to benefit the environment. A certification on your packaging, website, or other materials will immediately stand out to consumers and solidify your credibility. For example, get certified and add a How2Recycle label to recyclable packaging, a BPI certified label to compostable, or a TUV label to prove that your product has met compliance standards. But, remember to provide your customers with details about the certification to build trust and educate them about sustainable practices.
  • Avoid the fluff! Remember those vague buzzwords, phrases and certifications? Steer clear of all of those! Again, the key here is to be detailed and transparent. “100% natural” as a descriptor doesn’t mean much to the environment or the consumer.
  • Go beyond painting it green. It can be tempting to integrate the colour green and nature imagery into green initiatives and promotions—but before doing so, make sure this isn’t purely performative. Consumers will be more impressed with true commitments and proof of sustainability, rather than the “green aesthetic.” Go deeper and think before you paint!
With the ongoing Climate Crisis, we as individuals and organizations must do our part to reduce our negative impacts on the environment. This includes avoiding greenwashing and calling out environmentally destructive businesses that put on a green front.
Our Sales Team would love to guide your business in making sustainable choices for packaging; connect with them for more information. Our Creative Services team can also help your business avoid greenwashing in your public relations and marketing. Our industry professionals will assist you in communicating your sustainability efforts and campaigns authentically—let’s start your creative journey.
Armed with new resources and knowledge to spot greenwashing, go forth and advance your efforts towards sustainability! The Earth (and your customers) will thank you.