Ecology is among the most important issues for public opinion today. In recent years we have been able to witness a real awakening of consciences, as we have seen with events such as the famous Fridays For Future. Raising awareness of these issues has had decidedly positive results, to the point that the green drive now affects not only the younger generation, but envelops all age groups. The goal is to build a greener future, combating in every way the effect of pollution on our planet.
But precisely because of this new widespread consciousness, some companies have read in green a lever more of marketing and communication, instead of a real change to the way of doing business. Thus was born the phenomenon of greenwashing, a communication strategy that we need to pay special attention to. It is to all intents and purposes misleading advertising, and can even be sanctioned by the relevant bodies. Advertisements of this kind hide the reality, playing on the concept of eco-friendly and enhancing the image of individual companies. As a phenomenon it has been known for several decades, but in recent years it has gained more attention, to the point that it has been officially present since 2014 in the regulatory framework of our country.
In the next few lines we take a detailed look at the greenwashing what it is, how we can recognize it and what we can do to defend ourselves. Recognizing deceptive advertising is the first step in being able to fight it.
What is greenwashing
Let's start analyzing greenwashing from its meaning. The term, of English origin, is obtained by combining the words "green," green, and "washing," washing.
The meaning is literally "greenwashing," a metaphor for the practice of hiding a company's true characteristics under a veneer of ecological commitment. It is a communication mechanism that has spread like wildfire in recent years, but actually has its roots more than 30 years ago. In fact, the term was coined in 1986, by ecologist Jay Westerveld.
Some companies today use this practice to improve their image, and consequently increase their turnover. At this moment in history, public opinion places a lot of attention on green issues, and this may lead buyers to choose a product that is considered eco-friendly and sustainable, at the expense of a product that does not claim to be eco-friendly. Through these kinds of products, buyers feel that they are protecting the environment: greenwashing strategies are thus able to operate directly on the public's morals and ethics.
In order to achieve this, communication strategies are put in place to conceal reality, such as giving incomplete or inaccurate information.
Some examples on Greenwashing
Let us try to better explain what greenwashing is with examples. In what situations might communication hide a company's attempt to be more eco-friendly? Here are some of the situations to which it is important to pay close attention, and which can act as a real wake-up call.
In general, the communication strategies of greenwashers are characterized by a certain superficiality of the information provided to the public.
For example, incomplete or inaccurate data are given, trying to place great emphasis on some product features while hiding others. A company might claim that its product is highly sustainable, but without informing the public how the production process is actually highly polluting.
In other cases, we have seen advertised certificates that have been issued by unaccredited or unreliable bodies. Also watch out for data on labels, which may be counterfeit or manipulated.
Another typical strategy involves the use of technical terms that are not easily understood by those who are not experts in the field. An attempt is thus made to confuse the public by using high-sounding terms to gain credibility. In other contexts, however, deliberately ambiguous terms are used to make the message unclear and easily misunderstood.
What the law says
Fortunately, buyers are protected by Italian law, and this has allowed institutions to intervene several times over time. Greenwashing falls under what the Antitrust Authority calls misleading advertising, although until 2014 there was no precise normative reference that spoke of this practice. In the 2014 edition of the Commercial Communication Self-Regulatory Code, reference is finally beginning to be made to advertising practices that misuse and mislead on the subject of environmental protection.
Many well-known companies have been fined precisely because regulators have noticed the use of communication strategies that were deemed unfair.
For example, Ferrarelle in one advertisement claimed to make zero-impact bottles, claiming to plant new trees to offset carbon dioxide emissions. The sanction was issued because the definition of zero impact implied total CO2 offsetting.
Another case is that of Sant'Anna, a company that promoted better ecological characteristics on its bottles than was actually the case.
What can a buyer do in case they notice situations of potential greenwashing? The advice is to contact consumer associations. Starting with a report from us, they will be able to investigate, acting in the ways provided by law.
An equally important issue, however, is to be able to distinguish the path a company is taking. One cannot assume that in a short time a traditional company can completely transform itself into a green company. This is not always organizationally and economically sustainable. However, those companies that put in place a plan toward the green transition and follow it while sticking to the goals they have set for themselves should be rewarded. Sometimes companies that have undertaken major green transition plans are accused of greenwashing. This from our point of view is just as serious as greenwashing. Virtuous companies that are making serious efforts should be rewarded. The green theme is not all or nothing. So it would be difficult to achieve. It is daily transformational steps that will lead us to production and consumption patterns that are healthier for the environment and for us.
Even we in our own small way know that we are only at the beginning, that we can do more in the ps sustainability plan. We recognize that there is more work to be done to protect our planet and we are taking immediate and long-term actions to address our environmental footprint.
It is the small, everyday gestures that make the big revolutions.