What even is greenwashing, anyway?

Greenwashing is a marketing spin which convinces the public that a product, service, or company is environmentally-friendly. It happens when a business gives a false impression about sustainability, and can deceive consumers into believing they’re purchasing something environmentally-friendly, when actually, they’re not.

Remember BP’s campaign that made it appear environmentally-friendly, despite its damaging oil and gas investment? Or Fiji Water’s attempt to persuade the public it was carbon negative, when it wasn’t?

It’s misleading, unethical, and extremely damaging to efforts to tackle environmentally-damaging products and companies.

At this pivotal point in our fight against the climate crisis, it’s vital to be able to spot the ‘green sheen’. And for brands, it’s important to take a step back and look at your own messaging, and make sure it’s accurate and easy to understand.


How to spot greenwashing

Check for certification

It’s all too easy for brands to claim their products and services are eco-friendly, but without external verification, consumers can be left in the dark on how green they actually are. Genuine certification, such as the FSC, B Corp and The Vegan Society provide independent accreditation. Check for them on labels and websites, as they offer substantial weight to a brand’s claims.

Don’t fall for buzzwords

‘Conscious’, ‘eco-friendly’, ‘natural’, ‘sustainable’ – all well and good, but without sufficient explanation behind how these things are being achieved, green buzzwords can simply be used for effective marketing, rather than representative of actual environmental efforts. Be wary of brands using buzzwords like these without any evidence of how they have achieved that status – if there isn’t any, it’s likely greenwash.

Look behind the greenery

Don’t fall for the trap of ‘green visuals’. Bunnies frolicking in fields, lush rainforests, and blooming wildflowers make for pretty images, but is there anything more substantial to them than that? This type of imagery can mislead consumers into believing a company is environmentally-friendly, but it’s important to check the hard work is genuinely going on behind the scenes.


How to avoid greenwash in your marketing

Be specific

Broad, more general terms like ‘green’ or ‘eco’ are vague, and can be misleading or inaccurate, especially when used to describe an entire organisation or service. Unless you can prove that every aspect of your business – from cradle to grave – is environmentally-friendly, it’s best to be specific. What’s the carbon footprint of your production process? Is your supply chain local? What are your suppliers’ policies? Where do you source your materials? Do you support employees in taking public transport or cycling to work?

Be transparent

Being open about your work is the best way to build trust in your audience. It’s much better to be honest about the work you still have to do, than twist the truth and risk losing loyal customers. And it all starts internally. Set out concrete, achievable plans, with deadlines, and a clear strategy to get there. Share it with your audience, and they can keep you accountable. Ultimately, this builds trust and loyalty in your brand community, an invaluable part of marketing success.

Implement sustainability into your business model

Sustainability needs to be part of your company for the long term. There are plenty of resources out there to help you get started on your sustainability journey. We’re on our own journey here at Astley Media, and we’re the first ones to say – we’ve got a long way to go. Here are some resources that we’ve found helpful:

Find out how becoming a B Corp can certify your commitment to long term sustainability.

Enviral’s ‘At What Cost?’ checklist helps brands check whether potential B2B partners are aligned with your sustainability goals.


Are you a force for good? We work with brands that do good to get their voice heard. Get in touch to find out how we can amplify your message: hello@astleymedia.co.uk