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- Prelims – Environment
- Mains – GS 3 (Environment)
In News: In the first official acknowledgment of ‘greenwashing’, UN Secretary General warned private corporations to desist from such practices and mend their ways within a year.
- Greenwashing is the process of conveying a false impression or misleading information about how a company’s products are environmentally sound.
- Greenwashing involves making an unsubstantiated claim to deceive consumers into believing that a company’s products are environmentally friendly or have a greater positive environmental impact than is true.
- Greenwashing may occur when a company attempts to emphasize sustainable aspects of a product to overshadow the company’s involvement in environmentally damaging practices.
- Performed through the use of environmental imagery, misleading labels, and hiding tradeoffs, greenwashing is a play on the term “whitewashing,” which means using false information to intentionally hide wrongdoing, error, or an unpleasant situation in an attempt to make it seem less bad than it is.
- There is a growing tendency among firms and governments to mark all kinds of activities as climate-friendly.
- Many of these claims are unverifiable, misleading, or dubious. While they help in boosting the image of the entity, sometimes even helping them garner benefits, they do nothing in the fight against climate change.
Greenwashing – Example
- A classic example of greenwashing is when Volkswagen admitted to cheating emissions tests by fitting various vehicles with a “defect” device, with software that could detect when it was undergoing an emissions test and altering the performance to reduce the emissions level.
- This was going on while to the public the company was touting the low-emissions and eco-friendly features of its vehicles in marketing campaigns. In actuality, these engines were emitting up to 40 times the allowed limit for nitrogen oxide pollutants.
Effects of greenwashing
Greenwashing has numerous effects on consumers, companies, green industries and the planet itself.
For consumers – there is a growing body of evidence that shows consumer sentiment is slanted toward being green and environmentally sustainable.
- When a company, product or service is caught or discovered to be greenwashing, there is a general sense of distrust that occurs. Consumers will no longer trust the brand or product in question, and might also begin to question other claims.
For companies engaged in greenwashing – consumers will likely choose other organizations that are more ethical.
- Greenwashing can degrade customer satisfaction, erode brand loyalty and potentially affect repeat purchases.
- Companies also run the risk of fines from government and regulatory agencies around the world.
For green industries – the risk of greenwashing is a lack of trust from consumers. If there is a lot of greenwashing, then consumers will simply not trust green claims from anyone — including legitimately green industries — as they will not know whom to trust.
On Planet – Ultimately, the biggest effect of greenwashing is existential.
- Each act that an organization or individual doesn’t take with real green initiatives has a potential negative effect on the planet.
- With the effects of climate change continuing to manifest on humanity, there is no time to waste in taking steps to help improve sustainability such that humanity and Earth itself will continue to survive.
How to avoid or prevent greenwashing
- Be specific – Organizations shouldn’t use generic terms that don’t have a specific meaning. For example, saying a product is eco-friendly is generic and doesn’t specifically identify how the product or service is green.
- Use data – When making specific claims, it’s imperative that organizations use data. The data should support the claim and numerically detail the effects of the actions being taken.
- Be truthful – Fact-based statements that are truthful should be the standard for any and all types of marketing or claims about the environment.
- Certification – The processes, methodologies and institutions to measure, report, create standards, verify claims and grant certifications must be set up.
- Strong social accountability and a tripartite system, consisting of an organisation, a regulatory authority, and a third party (made up of stakeholders, civil society members, NGOs, etc.) have been suggested as ways to curb greenwashing.
Source: Indian Express
Previous Year Question
Q.1) Which one of the following best describes the term “greenwashing:”? (2022)
- Conveying a false impression that a company’s products are eco-friendly and environmentally sound
- Non-Inclusion of ecological/ environmental costs in the Annual Financial Statements of a country
- Ignoring the disastrous ecological consequences while undertaking infrastructure development
- Making mandatory provisions for environmental costs in a government project/programme