What is greenwashing?

Today, ecology is a subject in which companies are very interested. Respect for the environment has become a sensitive and important subject for consumers. Many companies are therefore embarking on this green race and setting up advertising campaigns that promote their eco-friendly practices or products.

However, some companies use deceptive techniques to make their communication appear to be totally ecological. This is called greenwashing. Greenwashing is a marketing technique that consists of communicating to the public in a misleading or dishonest way using the ecological argument.

In April 2021, MEPs banned advertising for the marketing and promotion of fossil fuels, and tightened sanctions against greenwashing ads.

What is the difference between green advertising and greenwashing?

What is greenwashing?

Greenwashing is the practice of putting forward an ecological argument in an abusive way that can mislead the consumer. This practice is now illegal and is considered as misleading advertising.

For example, a company can change the packaging of its product to look "greener". The packaging can be identified with a beautiful plant or fruit. The packaging gives consumers the impression that they are buying something natural and good for the planet. But when you look closer, and especially when you pay attention to the composition of the product, you see that the product is not environmentally friendly at all.

It is a technique also used in the visual creations of advertising campaigns with the presence of a lot of green, nature or wordings that can be assimilated as ecological but that will in reality distort reality.

What is green advertising?

First of all, green marketing highlights a product and its environmental benefits. Green marketing starts with the reliability of a product and its creation. The product should be designed to have a positive impact on sustainability and the environment.

To achieve green advertising, it is essential to focus on the composition of your products.

Here are some essential tips:

  • Develop a new all-natural or organic range
  • Check the composition of the products presented: they must not contain any additives, colourings or other products

The abuses of green advertising: the H&M example

Green communication is represented by certificates recognised in their sector and standards supported by governments. When H&M launched its new H&M Conscious collection in Los Angeles in 2017, it wanted to highlight the sustainable origin of its clothing with 100% organic cotton or recycled polyester. However, the brand did not specify the amount of organic or recycled materials in each garment and did not specify the environmental benefits for each piece in the collection. The Norwegian Consumer Authority decided to stop the campaign as greenwashing. 

Another example of greenwashing by EasyJet

At the end of 2021, an EasyJet advertisement announced the company's ambition to use "aircraft with zero CO2 emissions" by 2050. On the face of it, it's a nice promise from the brand!

But on 15 and 22 December 2021, the French-based Advertising Standards Jury received two complaints from individuals asking the jury to verify EsayJet's claims.

publicité greenwashing easy jet

The advert in question shows a man in a suit and a woman in an aircraft pilot's outfit, both standing on an airport tarmac. The long text of the advert reads: "Our ambition: zero CO2 flights, by 2050", "To achieve this goal, we are working with Airbus and Wright Electric to develop aircraft that will enable zero CO2 flights. We are committed to welcoming you on board these zero-emission aircraft as soon as these innovative technologies allow us to do so.

What were the complaints about?

There is some scientific evidence that contradicts the promises made in the advertising. Some people question whether there will be zero emission flights by 2050. So the advert is misleading?

The decision of the Advertising Standards Jury

The jury does not dispute the principle of an advertising message that expresses a strong ambition for a better life for the planet. However, it points out that "in such cases, advertising ethics include requirements designed to protect consumers and ensure fair competition. In this respect, the more ambitious the promise, on the one hand, and the more remote or uncertain the time frame for its fulfilment, on the other, the more advertising that makes use of it must - unless it misleads the consumer - be based on "solid, objective and verifiable elements at the time of advertising".

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