With recent news showing that fast fashion chain H&M is being sued for “greenwashing”, it makes you think about what greenwashing is.

A new lawsuit alleges fast-fashion clothing brand H&M is labelling its products as environmentally friendly when they are anything but.  

When brands lie about the sustainability of their products, their brand loyalty and trust decline. In general, consumers don’t like to be lied to.

So why do brands lie within their marketing campaigns, and how do you avoid greenwashing and falling victim to it?

What is greenwashing?

Greenwashing is when a company appears to be environmentally friendly for marketing purposes but isn’t making any notable sustainability efforts.

H&M weren’t the first brand to use greenwashing within their marketing campaigns. The phrase “greenwashing” was first coined in 1986 in a critical essay inspired by the “save the towel” movement in hotels that had little impact beyond saving hotels money in laundry costs. 

Of course, greenwashing doesn’t end with some stingy hotel owners. 

Drink corporation Coca-Cola is the world’s number 1 plastic polluter, and despite refusing to ditch outdated plastic bottles, they are adamant that they are making progress in tackling packaging waste. Then, in 2021, a lawsuit was filed against the beverage giant for falsely advertising that they are sustainable and eco-friendly even though they are the world’s largest plastic polluter.  

Essentially, greenwashing is when brands or corporations use eco-friendly phrases or lie about what they contribute to the global warming crisis to make more sales. 

Why do marketers use “greenwashing” in their campaigns?

Being green sells. We all want to be as eco-friendly as possible, and brands capitalise on that within their marketing campaigns.

In a recent survey, 95% of UK participants said that it was important for them that the products they buy are eco-friendly and sustainable, with 22.8% of them arguing it was extremely important.

Furthermore, another survey conducted by NYU Stern’s Center for Sustainable Business found that 50% of consumer packaged goods (CPG) growth from 2013 to 2018 came from sustainability-marketed products. 

With these statistics in mind, you can understand why brands want to capitalise on this by using greenwashing within their marketing campaigns. 

Brands often do this by using terms that don’t require certification, e.g. anyone can print “eco-friendly” on their packaging design, while you need to meet specific certifications to be labelled a B corp brand.

How do you avoid greenwashing?

As mentioned before, anyone can say they’re eco-friendly or sustainable, but third-party certifications require actual proof. That’s why our print partners are always FSC accredited.  

It’s essential for brands and marketing agencies, like ourselves, to avoid fluffy language with no apparent meaning, e.g. don’t say “eco-friendly”, “natural”, or “green” without any actual proof to back it up. 

A company we think has avoided greenwashing well is the health and beauty brand The Body Shop. They have labelled the percentages of recycled materials they’ve used within their packaging design. Using statistics like these, The Body Shop comes off as having more accountability and seeming more trustworthy than other beauty brands that may just say, “we use eco-friendly packaging”.

Greenwashing is damaging to a brand and comes with legal risks, which is why it’s so important, to be honest about your brand’s sustainability journey. 

This affects us too

Sustainability is at our core as a marketing agency. So it’s essential for us not to falsify claims on non-eco-friendly products as eco-friendly.

Both marketing agencies like ours and brands are responsible for being honest with their customers and clients. 

We at CuCo Creative create packaging design solutions as well as creating motivational brand stories, which gives us an extra responsibility to be honest with our clients and never falsify our sustainable ethos. 

You can read more about our sustainability policy here

Are you equally angry and don’t want to fit into the trends of greenwashing? Give us a shout!