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Exploring Greenwashing and Ways to Avoid It

Quality InsightsJanuary 19, 2024

Greenwashing is a real problem. Learn what it is, read about some examples, and find out how we can help you avoid it.

What is greenwashing?

Greenwashing, also known as green sheen, occurs when an organization intentionally or unintentionally exaggerates environmental credentials to appear more environmentally friendly than they are in reality.

Environmentalist Jay Westerveld coined the term in a critical essay inspired by the irony of the hotel industry’s “save the towel” movement. The industry devised one of the most deliberate examples of greenwashing. Notices were placed in hotel rooms asking guests to reuse towels to save the environment. The hotels were more concerned with decreasing laundry costs than sustainability.

More recently, some of the world’s biggest carbon emitters have attempted to rebrand as champions of the environment.

What are whitewashing and bluewashing?

Whitewashing is when an organization covers up or glosses over scandalous information by subjectively representing information.

Bluewashing is like greenwashing, but it focuses on social and economic responsibility, rather than the environment. 

Two basic types of greenwashing

1. An organization claims credit for an existing production method, as if it was influenced by a sustainability directive.

For example, a business may eliminate plastic packaging to reduce costs, but say it is a green initiative.

2. An organization lies about a product or service’s eco-friendliness through phrases like “best-in-class ecology”, environmental imagery or false or made-up certifications. This is the more extreme form of greenwashing.

Examples of greenwashing

Here are a couple of good examples of bad greenwashing:

  • A plastic package containing a new shower curtain is labeled “recyclable”. It is unclear whether this refers to the shower curtain or packaging. The label is deceptive if any part of the package or contents, other than minor components, cannot be recycled
  • A rug is labeled “50% more recycled content than before”. In fact, the manufacturer increased the recycled content from 2% to 3%. Although technically true, the message creates the false impression that the rug contains a substantial amount of recycled fiber

Greenwashed products will often include misleading labeling or environmentally unfriendly practices in the small print. They can also include terms like “eco-friendly” and “sustainable”, which are vague and often unverifiable.

Stereotypical images of nature aim to show environmental friendliness, even when the product is not sustainable.

Furthermore, some organizations select research data to highlight sustainable practices while masking harmful ones. Such information can also come from subjective, self-funded research.

30+ years of sustainability experience

We have been a leader in sustainability and environmental, social and governance (ESG) services for over 30 years.

With expertise in all major industries, we understand each sector’s pain points and have the technical expertise and logistical capabilities to ensure realistic sustainability outcomes.

Our ESG services can help you mitigate supply chain risks, implement better processes, address stakeholder concerns and accomplish sustainability goals.

Leveraging our compliance, verification and training expertise, we create solutions tailored to your requirements.

Global technical expertise and network

With a vast global network of experts and facilities, we offer high-level support to clients who are addressing local, national and international sustainability risks.

Our experts offer comprehensive technical support while understanding the local language, standards and customs, making it easier for companies to facilitate local and global projects.

Consistency of service and execution

We deliver consistent results with excellent customer service and support. Our clients receive end-to-end support, from contract to report, and gain peace of mind through services delivered with integrity.

Services portfolio

Integrated solutions allow us to operate as a single vendor, covering all client types and ESG areas. Our holistic service packages are tailored to meet your needs and not general industry demands.

This is but an extract from our new greenwashing white paper.

For further information, please contact:

Jason Hulbert
Associate Marketing Manager
t: +44 7912426878

About SGS

We are SGS – the world’s leading testing, inspection and certification company. We are recognized as the global benchmark for sustainability, quality and integrity. Our 98,000 employees operate a network of 2,650 offices and laboratories, working together to enable a better, safer and more interconnected world.

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