what is corporate greenwashing

What is Corporate Greenwashing?

Jane Marsh - March 21, 2022

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Going green is a modern trend. As eco-consumer rates increase, companies explore profitable ways to meet customers’ needs. Unfortunately, some brands cheat the system and deceive their clients.

When businesses make false ecological promises, both their employees and the environment suffer the consequences. Many sustainable consumers recognize brands’ greenwashing practices and call them out. Individuals are banning non-sustainable manufacturers to protect their carbon footprints and the global ecosystem.

What is Corporate Greenwashing?

A company engages in greenwashing when they make false claims about their products’ sustainability levels. Most businesses deceive their customers to increase their profits. Many individuals blindly support non-sustainable companies when they fall for inaccurate information, increasing environmental degradation.

Greenwashing brands may claim their products derived from recycled materials when, in reality, they consist of ecologically harmful sources. Other companies exaggerate their facts to support eco-consumer consumption patterns. If a manufacturer receives 15% of its energy from renewable resources, it may claim all professionals make products with clean electricity.

Though some of their production may rely on renewable energy, they may also use natural gases, creating greenhouse gas emissions. The deceptive wording corporations use enhances a consumer’s misunderstanding. Various companies engage in greenwashing to remain competitive in a market valuing sustainability.

Which Companies Engage in Greenwashing?

Consumers can expand their awareness of the top greenwashing companies to increase the eco-friendliness of their purchasing patterns. Individuals may avoid the companies and explore their practices to better evaluate other businesses’ sustainability levels. Volvo is one corporation that investigators called out for active deception practices.

The vehicle manufacturing business announced its efforts to reduce emissions, increasing the consciousness of transportation. Professionals claimed they enhanced production technology, minimizing pollution. Researchers discovered Volvo was skewing their vehicle emission number to represent more eco-friendly rates.

Volvo lied about the sustainability of nearly 11 million cars by altering their test data. In reality, the “eco-conscious” vehicles were emitting over 40 times the limit for nitrogen oxide emissions. The company’s deceptive practices expanded consumers’ carbon footprints without their knowledge, increasing atmospheric degradation.

The BP oil company also engages in corporate greenwashing. In 2008, the business established a shift towards sustainable practices, changing its name to Beyond Petroleum. It also set an alternative energy pledge, decreasing energy-related pollution.

BP failed to follow through with its promises, investing 93% of its funds in fossil fuels, driving climate change. They exaggerated their 1.39% investment in solar energy, making consumers believe their profits supported emission reduction efforts. The company was also responsible for the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in 2010, which devastated the marine and estuarial ecosystems in the Gulf of Mexico.

Starbucks is one of the largest global corporations. Professionals within the company responded to rising eco-consumer rates by establishing plastic reduction practices. They developed straw-less lids for cold beverages, helping consumers reduce their contribution to plastic waste.

Unfortunately, the project is mainly smoke and mirrors, helping individuals feel like they are engaging in sustainable consumption patterns. Manufacturing and incinerating plastic cups over the next three decades may produce 56 gigatons of greenhouse gas emissions. The cup itself creates atmospheric and surface-level waste challenges instead of the straw alone.

H&M is another corporation deceiving its consumers with greenwashing. The company developed a Conscious Collection of clothes made of eco-friendly materials. Additionally, the company created a recycling program, providing customers with a coupon when they donate their old clothes in the store.

Realistically, only about 35% of the recycled garments make it to a repurposing facility. H&M is also a fast-fashion brand, creating clothes quickly for low prices, overlooking the importance of sustainable material sourcing. When businesses use greenwashing to increase sales, they produce adverse environmental effects.

The Harms of Sustainability-Related Deception

Corporations engaging in greenwashing may increase already high industrial emissions. Nearly 23% of global air pollution derives from manufacturing and processing practices in the industrial sector. When greenhouse gas emissions invade the atmosphere, they alter Earth’s ability to produce life-sufficient surface temperatures, causing climate change.

The fast fashion industry notoriously produces atmospheric, water and landfill pollution, limiting its sustainability. Clothing manufacturers exploit millions of gallons of water annually, increasing resource scarcity. They also burn high volumes of fossil fuels, creating emissions.

Greenwashing also reduces a consumer’s purchasing agency, confusing the sustainability level of products. One Malaysian Palm Oil commercial established itself as an eco-friendly business. It explained the production process’s support of biodiversity and carbon filtering.

Palm oil production is one of the leading causes of deforestation. The process reduces biodiversity and increases atmospheric pollution. Limited regulations on information projected in commercials lead to uninformed purchases, degrading the environment.

How You Can Prevent Corporate Greenwashing

Consumers can prevent their blind support of greenwashing corporations by looking for authentic certifications. The Fair Trade, B Corporation and EcoCert labels all represent conscious production efforts and sources. Individuals may also remain aware of deceptive wording like “natural” and “green,” preventing non-sustainable purchases. 

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About the author

Jane Marsh

Starting from an early age, Jane Marsh loved all animals and became a budding environmentalist. Now, Jane works as the Editor-in-Chief of Environment.co where she covers topics related to climate policy, renewable energy, the food industry, and more.