Greenwashing in Package Design

As environmental responsibility becomes an attractive selling point for brands, some companies are naturally misrepresenting themselves as being greener than they truly are. This practice of dishonesty is known as “greenwashing”, and although most people have never heard of it, greenwashing is extremely prevalent in today’s market.

According to TerraChoice, a sustainability partner for companies like Underwriters Laboratories, 95% of “green” products have engaged in some form of greenwashing. It is so common because companies are recognizing consumer’s desire to go green, with over over 70% more “green” products in the market today than in 2009.

In TerraChoice’s 2010 report on environmental claims made among CPG brands, “The Sins of Greenwashing, Home and Family Edition,” they laid out the seven sins of greenwashing.

 

The Hidden Trade-Off

This sin is committed when a product claims to be “green” by focusing on a small aspect of the product’s manufacturing process. For example, an avocado might be grown on a sustainable farm, but other environmental factors such as gas emissions from transportation get overlooked.

 

Lack of Proof

 This occurs when a product makes a claim that cannot easily be proven, like when a paper product claims to have a certain percentage manufactured with recycled material. There is no actual certification that investigates how recycled a product is.

 

Vagueness 

Vagueness is any claim that is broad or poorly defined and can be easily misunderstood. The term “green” itself is vague, because there is no measurement or guidelines a product has to follow in order to be considered environmentally friendly. Another common example of vagueness is the term “all-natural.” A natural manufacturing process could have poisonous byproducts like mercury and arsenic.

 

Irrelevance

Irrelevance is a claim that may be truthful but has no significance to a consumer looking for the more environmentally friendly product. A product may be “CFC-free” but as CFC (chlorofluorocarbon) is already illegal, the claim should not influence a consumer’s decision.

 

The Lesser of Two Evils

This sin happens when a product may be the best option in its prospective category, but delineates from the fact that it is still environmentally harmful, like organic cigarettes or biodegradable shotgun shells (yes, those are real).

 

Fibbing

 Fibbing, lying or bluffing, this is the sin of making a false claim.

 

The Worshiping of False Labels

This occurs when a product gives the appearance of having a certification, or endorsement from a third-party, that does not exist. This is very common for products claiming to be organic. There are a variety of “Organic” labels; while some are legitimate, others are simply decorative.

Brands need to understand that it is not enough to have a “green” label. If companies falsely claim to be more environmentally friendly than they truly are, it could ultimately end up painting them in an even worse light than if they hadn’t tried to appear green at all.