Greenwashing is a deceptive marketing technique that aims to give a company an image of being committed to the environment without this being the case. It is a method that is used in many sectors: food, fashion, cosmetics, automotive, tourism... In most cases, the expenses incurred by companies practicing greenwashing are actually concentrated more on advertising than on real ecological actions.
What tools are used by companies practicing greenwashing?
The use of visual elements such as green color variations, photos of natural landscapes, the integration of emojis referring to ecology (this is something that we find a lot in the Instagram biographies of some brands for example)
The use of the lexical field related to nature and ecology "natural origin", "fair trade", "ethical'', "responsible", "sustainable", without real evidence of the statements made behind. For example, many fast fashion brands propose pieces (especially T-shirts) with ecological slogans: "there is no planet B"; "keep the earth protected"; "enjoy the ocean" etc... However, if the argument is just marketing and that the ecological commitment does not go further, (for example if the T-shirt is made of synthetic materials) then it is greenwashing.
The use of false labels or false claims. For example, we often see brands writing in the description of their products "100% natural cotton" or worse "100% organic cotton", "sustainable cotton", while they do not actually have any certification to prove what they say.
By the way, it seems important to talk about the BCI label, to which many fast-fashion brands adhere. The BCI label - "Better Cotton Initiative" - promises a better use of cotton, including being more respectful of the environment and the workers in this industry. What is the problem? The label is often associated with organic cotton, but it does not prohibit the use of GMOs or pesticides. Even worse, BCI cotton has a perverse effect on organic cotton because many cotton producers end up stopping producing organic cotton to switch to BCI cotton because of the lower requirements.
Simply the lack of transparency regarding the way the company operates, its production and the composition of the products.
As a consumer, how can you detect green washing?
One of the first indicators is to look at the company's global responsibility approach: have a critical look, take a step back so as not to be caught up in the form and tone put forward and by all the marketing techniques used (such as those mentioned above). For example, check out the "manifesto", "our commitments" or "the brand" pages, i.e. the pages where brands express themselves in relation to their commitment, their missions, etc.
Then, in the case of speeches that seem a bit vague, do not hesitate to look for information elsewhere to check their credibility.
You can also check the labels, especially if it is a label you have not heard much about before.
What does the law say?
Several actors are interested in greenwashing.
The ARPP (Autorisation de Régulation Professionnelle de la Publicité), a private self-regulatory body for advertising in France, cannot sanction companies for greenwashing. Its role is only to encourage "fair, truthful and healthy advertising".
The ADEME (Agency for Ecological Transition) also works with the ARPP in order to limit greenwashing because according to this organization, it participates in the disinformation of consumers.
Finally, it is in April 2021 that the bill nº 3875 on the fight against climate change and strengthening resilience to its effects has allowed to ban ("as of one year after the entry into force of this law") the advertising "in favor of fossil fuels" and to "significantly reduce audiovisual commercial communications relating to goods and services that have a negative impact on the environment", but also to harden and simplify the implementation of sanctions against greenwashing and misleading commercial practices. Thus, with this bill, the amount of the fine could go from 50% of the expenses used for the realization of the advertising or the greenwashing practice to 80%!
Greenwashing is not the only misleading marketing technique used by brands, there is also for several years now what is called feminism washing. We have written an article about it :)
At Elia, transparency is at the heart of our DNA and our commitments are real! If you want to know more, you can check out our commitment pages for the fight against endometriosis, our eco-responsibility approach as well as the behind-the-scenes production of our menstrual panties and on our Instagram!