The Truth About Greenwashing in Marketing

The Truth About Greenwashing in Marketing_

Are you lying about your company being eco-friendly? Greenwashing in marketing is a huge issue across a range of industries. As your strategic marketing agency partner, we know our stuff and can help you navigate around greenwashing.

What is greenwashing?

Greenwashing is when a company falsely claims that they’re environmentally friendly when they’re not. Or, when they exaggerate their environmental claims in their digital PR and social media strategy. They spend more time on marketing themselves as green than actually putting practices in place.

According to Nielsen’s IQ, 73% of millennials are much more likely to buy something if it’s environmentally friendly. Unsurprisingly, there are lots of brands cashing in on this for the wrong reasons.

Let’s get to grips with greenwashing

When a company gets caught out, it blows UP. Everyone wants to know about what they did, which can really damage their street cred and reputation. Read on to find out some of the greenwashing examples that made our digital marketing agency cringe.

Examples of Greenwashing

Greenwashing is more commonplace than you might think! Some huge brands have been in the headlines for their marketing deceit. Here are some of them:


Back in 2021, Coca-Cola plastered their website with slogans like ‘our planet matters’ and even launched a marketing campaign, ‘A World Without Waste’. But, they’re actually the largest plastic polluter in the world! The Earth Island Institute filed a lawsuit against them for greenwashing. Coca-Cola won the case, with the court ruling in their favour because ‘statements were aspirational in nature’. The damage has already been done on their reputation, though.


In 2018, Starbucks released their new product: a ‘strawless lid’. However, this lid actually used more plastic than the old straw and lid combo. Starbucks didn’t dispute that their new lids used less plastic, instead saying “the strawless lid is made from polypropylene, a commonly-accepted recyclable plastic that can be captured in recycling infrastructure, unlike straws which are too small and lightweight to be captured in modern recycling equipment.” However, critics highlighted only 9% of the world’s plastic is recycled.


The clothing company launched a range of clothing called ‘Conscious’, in 2019. They claimed that the clothes were ‘sustainable fashion pieces that make you both look and feel good.’ These claims were repeated on the website, in stores, and across their social media marketing. But, they never said how they were eco-friendly, ending up in them being criticised by the Norwegian Customer Authority for ‘misleading’ marketing tactics. H&M are still greenwashing, with a ‘sustainable’ range still available today. You can read more about their ethics here: Good On You


In 2020, the UK Advertising Standards Authority banned a Ryanair marketing campaign! They claimed to be Europe’s “lowest emissions airline”, which was misleading. When asked to back up their statement, Ryanair could only present a report from 2011, which wasn’t enough evidence. Despite being banned in the UK, the ad ran in ten other countries. This shows that at the time, other countries were more lenient to greenwashing.


If you’ve heard of any greenwashing marketing examples, it’s this one. Way back in 2015, VW hit the headlines for cheating emissions tests. They put a “defect” device on different vehicles, using clever software that could detect when it was undergoing an emissions test and altering the performance to reduce the emissions level. Their marketing campaigns highlighted how eco-friendly they were, whilst these engines were emitting up to 40 times the allowed limit for nitrogen oxide pollutants

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Greenwashing rules

The rules have just got a lot tighter for greenwashing. Advertising regulators across the world have released new, stricter guidance on environmental claims. Any statements about a company being eco-friendly must be backed up by strong evidence. Basically, they need to say HOW they are being green, rather than just claiming that they are. If brands don’t do this, they can risk being penalised – like we’ve seen with the examples above! All marketing managers, marketing agency, or anyone involved in digital PR needs to be aware of these guidelines! More information can be found here: Updated Environmental Guidance

How to avoid greenwashing

In short, don’t be a liar. If your brand isn’t truly passionate about saving the planet, don’t talk about it. You should live and breathe these values, making it part of your company’s DNA.

One of the sneakiest ways people greenwash is through vague and misleading language. For example, using the words ‘natural’ or ‘eco-friendly’ with no stats or evidence to back up these claims.

If you are including stats, include all the information. For example, you could highlight one way that your company is being really green, whilst ignoring ways you’re polluting the environment.

So there you have it – the truth about greenwashing in marketing. This is a huge problem for brands, so the more people that know about it, the better. For help with your marketing campaigns, contact our Leeds marketing agency today: Get in Touch