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Behind Consumerism - Greenwashing and Toxic Marketing

By Joy Wan


The rising trend of eco-friendly products and widespread awareness of toxic consumerism have made us inclined to purchase items labeled “natural” or “sustainable” (even if it means a hefty price tag!), but big-name companies have simultaneously exploited this concept to craft counterproductive marketing ploys and unsubstantiated brand images, all while profiting off the idea that their consumers are contributing towards sustainability.


Here are a few renowned examples of greenwashing:


  1. Volkswagen famously “sets itself ambitious sustainability targets”, but has admitted to cheating emissions tests by setting up software that could greatly alter the performance to reduce the emissions level only when it was undergoing a test. In reality, the engines emitted nitrogen oxide pollutants up to 40 times above what is allowed in the US.

  2. As the world’s largest consumer of wood, IKEA’s sustainability credentials are reliable to the public. However, an investigation by Earthsight found that it has been illegally sourcing wood from the forests of Ukraine, Russia and Romania, in areas home to endangered animals. Employees involved in the scheme have been subject to fines and prison sentences.

  3. H&M is infamously linked to unsustainability, but has since labeled some of their products “environmentally conscious”. Despite this change, the Changing Markets Foundation found that a shocking 96% of their claims did not hold up, exposing H&M for its misleading labels.


Spot signs of greenwashing


  • Don’t fall for their marketing tactics! Terms such as “conscious”, “natural” and “green” are free from legal liability, yet can be very appealing to consumers who aim to contribute to sustainability. Simple packaging strategies like earthy-coloured bags or paper materials might also mislead us into thinking the product is genuinely eco-friendly.

  • Look for accreditation - if the product is clearly approved by third-party organisations, such as Fairtrade certifications, FSC, BCI, Green Seal, or other credible sources, it’s a sign the company has legitimate sustainability proof.

  • Do your own research: companies often cherry-pick data to appear trustworthy, so reading articles on the products or checking if their supply chain information is transparent will paint a more accurate picture of its reliability.


Regulations on greenwashing and how it impacts companies


  • The European Union has introduced stringent regulations to combat greenwashing, such as the Green Claims Directive, which encourages all companies to seek verification and support its claims with scientific evidence, as well as audit all marketing materials and do carbon accounting. Companies can now face penalties of up to 4% of their annual revenue for making misleading environmental claims.

  • The Asset Management Association of China has also implemented a series of regulations that will require exchange-traded funds to have at least 60% of their assets in the defined green investments category to be eligible to be sold as green products, thus eradicting any false portrayals of eco-friendly products.

  • The US also introduced the Green Claims Code in 2021, which prohibits the use of self-certification, and requires companies to include information for the consumer about how to use the product in order to achieve a certain degree of environmental performance, giving companies a framework to document sustainability.



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Works Cited


Covington, The Green Claims Global Drive: Developments in the UK, US and EU,


Akepa, Greenwashing: 11 recent stand-out examples,


BBC News, Volkswagen: The scandal explained,



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