‘Greenwashing hydra’: New report warns of six types of greenwashing from corporates
A new report has warned that greenwashing from companies has become a “many-headed beast”, with activities ranging from accidental inaccuracies within marketing, to singular green practices that distract from other damaging environmental policies.
The new report, published this week by Planet Tracker, has identified six types of greenwashing that corporates could fall foul of, stating that a “greenwashing hydra” has emerged when analysing green claims from corporates.
Planet Tracker warns that greenwashing, which it broadly classes as companies making themselves “appear more environmentally friendly than they really are” ranges from different types of communications and marketing activities.
“Around the world, regulators are starting to confront the growing greenwashing issue. Addressing the problem will require those bodies leading the charge against greenwashing to establish a global equivalence in ESG reporting,” Planet Tracker’s director of research John Willis said.
“By identifying the various iterations that greenwashing comes in, we hope to enable investors and consumers to be more mindful when making environmentally led decisions.”
Planet Tracker identifies six types of greenwashing.
The first is “greencrowding” which is built on the notion that hiding amongst a “crowd” of other corporates can keep environmentally damaging approaches hidden. The report cited ‘The Alliance to End Plastic Waste: Barely Credible’ report as an example of how corporates can be seen to be doing something collectively, but individual actions still lack.
“Greenlighting” is another term utilised in the report, this time to describe how companies shine a spotlight on green credentials in order to draw attention away from environmentally damaging activities. Examples include manufacturers showcasing decarbonisation even as plastics pollution and resource use expands.
Greenshifting is listed in the report and refers to when companies try and shift the blame up or down the value chain, usually toward consumers. Other firms are using “greenlabelling”, a practice where marketing departments mislead through their adverts by claiming something is green.
The report also highlights the growth in “greenrinsing”, which can occur when companies regularly change climate and sustainability targets before they’ve been achieved. Planet Tracker highlights Coca-Cola and PepsiCo as two examples of this.
Finally, the report covers the growing role that “greenhushing” is having in corporate communications. The term refers to corporates under-reporting or even hiding their sustainability data and performance to avoid stakeholder scrutiny.
Here in the UK, the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) announced in 2022 that it will undertake its first official investigation into greenwashing, with an initial focus on fashion. Brands found to be flouting its Green Claims Code could face fines and other penalties.
This is, of course, welcome, given how fashion brands have been very trigger-happy with adding environmental clothing to products in recent years. One 2021 study of the websites of 12 of the biggest British and European fashion brands, including Asos, H&M and Zara, found that 60% of the environmental claims could be classed as “unsubstantiated” and “misleading”.
The CMA’s Green Claims Code can act as a handy navigational tool. It covers six initial principles that businesses and brands should try to bake into communications and marketing around sustainable products and services.
The code covers how and why businesses can ensure that claims, messaging and communications are accurate, clear and understandable to the relevant stakeholders. It focuses on ensuring that important information about the product or service is included and that “fair and meaningful” comparisons are made against other products.
The Code also suggests that businesses cover the lifecycle impacts of a product, rather than just up to the point of sale and ensuring that businesses have made any claims on a basis of “robust, credible and up-to-date” scientific data and evidence.
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