The 7 Sins of Greenwashing

NL Sustainable Fashion Circle
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Companies can engage in greenwashing in various ways, often using a combination of tactics. Currently, there is no official greenwashing checklist, but in 2007, Terrachoice developed the Seven Sins of Greenwashing, which is often referenced:

1. Hidden Trade-Off

The brand promotes a product as environmentally friendly based on just a few (partial) attributes. For example, a clothing item is presented as sustainable because it comes in a recycled package while ignoring that the item itself is polluting. The latter may have a greater impact on the product's environmental friendliness.

2. No Proof

The brand makes an environmentally friendly claim without providing evidence on the label or the website.

3. Vagueness

The brand uses words like sustainable, eco, fair, and green without further clarification. For example, "we only use sustainable cotton" without explaining what that means. These are not protected terms, which means companies can use them in their communication, but they should explain why.

4. Irrelevant Claims

The brand makes a correct claim, but it is not relevant. For example, if the company presents a legal obligation as an innovation.

5. Choosing Between Two Evils

The brand claims to be the most environmentally friendly provider of a product that is inherently highly polluting.

6. Lying

The brand communicates with claims that are factually incorrect. For example, using a certification mark that the company does not possess or advertising an achievement the company has not actually reached.

7. False Certifications

The brand communicates that its product(s) or practices are certified by a third party when no such certification exists - or the brand claims it's an independent certification when it was actually established by the brand itself.

We would like to add:

8. Absolute (Future) Claims

The brand presents a future goal as if it has already been achieved or is guaranteed to be achieved. In the Primark greenwashing case, where Sara has been involved directly (see below for more information), we see the Irish chain communicating with store banners like this.