3 concrete examples of greenwashing in advertising campaigns

In this article, we share with you 3 recurring examples of greenwashing that are found in many advertisements. Once you know them, you'll see them all over the place.

1) The use of vague words

This one is a great classic. Do you ever see ads with words like “sustainable”, “responsible”, “environmentally friendly” when there is no more information? There is no need to answer this question, we know that yes.

Well know that this is a perfect example of greenwashing called”the use of vague or generic words

Concretely, you are presented with a product, service or even a brand with words that do not include any proportionality and generally without any additional information on why these strong words are used.

In the event that no proportionality and no information is given, we are in a case of greenwashing.

To solve this case, you need to:
1) make the environmental claim specific or non-generic. For example, on an advertisement promoting sustainable packaging, add to the visual “because 70% less plastic”.

2) add nuance to the environmental claim. Phrases such as “contribute to” or the word “more” can be used in this regard.

3) add a redirect link that allows consumers to get more information to prove the use of these terms.

The two ad campaigns below are perfect examples of this.

It is interesting to note that this case of greenwashing is also often present among brands with an environmental or social mission. Although we do things much better than others, we cannot claim to be “100% sustainable” because any product or service, however virtuous it may be, has an environmental impact.

2) The visuals are too suggestive

Everything is green, everything is beautiful, everything is ecological! In any case, this is what we are trying to make your mind believe by staging products in flower beds or by growing leaves everywhere next door.

Visuals are powerful tools for getting messages across discreetly to our brains. Although nothing has been mentioned about a benefit for the environment, the simple fact of seeing the color green or a little bit of nature indirectly influences our perception of the product.

When the visuals are too suggestive when there is no proven or reported positive impact on the environment, it is a form of greenwashing.

This is what Coca-Cola did in its advertising for its “Coca-Cola life” or even McDonald's by changing its logo to green...

3) Highlighting off topic

A classic from classical, especially in sectors known to be the most polluting, and which is among the most difficult cases to detect as a citizen. Since it is complex to communicate on the environmental benefits in these sectors (aviation, banking, etc.), companies in these sectors tend to try to get people talking about them by putting forward positive initiatives on ancillary subjects, but which represent only a tiny part of the company's impact.

The typical case is that of airlines advocating that they are “green” because the cutlery used on their planes is reusable. Although this action has the merit of existing, it has almost no impact on the overall pollution generated by these companies. Advertising it (external communication) therefore amounts to misleading consumers about the image of the company and its true impact. This is also the case for many well-known banks that put themselves forward in many fields (associations, culture, etc.) to improve their image while the vast majority of their investments go to highly polluting companies.

This is a pernicious case and difficult to detect because you often have to know the impact of the sector to be aware of the off-topic emphasis. In addition, initiatives are often positive (support for associations typically) and are therefore difficult to criticize.

If you want to learn more about the main elements of greenwashing, we are redirecting you to our article which summarizes the 6 main elements of greenwashing in communication hither.

If you ever see an advertisement that you think is a case of greenwashing, do not hesitate to file a complaint with the advertising ethics jury (Belgium) or advertising ethics jury (Francia).

Each validated complaint makes it possible to make a difference in the advertising sector and thus gradually put an end to greenwashing in our society. The same greenwashing that is slowing down the ecological transition when we need to see an acceleration instead.

Links to the various images:





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