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Greenwashing describes companies that call themselves “green” but, in practice, are not.
Culpable businesses employ rhetoric and promote campaigns that claim to be ecologically correct in order to link the company - and its products - with environmentally-friendly practises in order to appeal to the public.
But if those claims are perceived as exaggerated or not genuine, they might be accused of ‘greenwashing’, i.e. painting something green to appeal more environmentally friendly
For example, think of a clothing retailer that uses recycled fabrics but has coal-powered factories; or oil companies claiming to be renewable energy leaders; and cooking oil made with genetically modified organisms but branded as "natural."
The number of environmental claims made by various companies and organisations is rising as consumers are increasingly demanding more sustainable goods.
Activists say ‘greenwashing’ is a major problem in the face of climate change… and it’s likely to be a hot topic at the upcoming COP26 summit.
Famous case of greenwashing
A high-profile case of greenwashing occurred in 2008 in Canada. Nestlé ran an ad with the slogan “Bottled water is the most environmentally responsible consumer product in the world”.
Immediately, environmental protection groups requested for the ad to be removed, pointing out that bottled water was one of the biggest polluters in the oceans. The company was required to retract its claim.
Nestlé itself was also criticised by Greenpeace and accused of greenwashing after it announced that all its plastic packaging would be completely recycled by 2025. The environmental organisation criticised the lack of transparency of this measure, which did not contain any timeline or clear targets.
Activists also pointed out that big companies must act on the pollution that is already present in our seas and oceans, and not just incorporate new plastics into this cycle.
Another well-known case of greenwashing involved Walmart in the United States. In 2017, the supermarket chain was fined one million dollars for selling products with incorrect information about the presence of plastic in the make-up of its items.