Power-off for greenwashing: EU legislation advocates clear rules
It often sounds too good to be true: The skin cream made from purely natural ingredients that is only the best for my skin - the printed label confirms it. The fashion manufacturer that claims sustainability and eco-friendliness and celebrates them in advertising campaigns - but in reality only very few parts of the collection meet the strict requirements for organic cotton. The car company that advertises its new models of environmentally friendly electric cars - while concealing the fact that the production of these vehicles devours enormous amounts of fossil fuels.
These are just three examples of greenwashing, a tactic used by companies and organizations to give the impression that they are environmentally friendly and sustainable, when in fact they are only taking superficial measures or even continuing to engage in environmentally harmful practices.
Consumer deception included
The problem with greenwashing is that it deceives consumers and leads to false assumptions about the sustainability of products and services. Companies often use vague or misleading terms such as "eco-friendly," "sustainable," or "green" to create the impression that their products or services are environmentally friendly when in fact they are not.
Another problem is that greenwashing makes it harder to identify genuine environmentally friendly products and services. Consumers looking for sustainable options can be confused by false claims and advertising and end up buying products that are not truly environmentally friendly.
EU Parliament: Green Claims Directive to remedy the situation
The European Union has also recognized all this and has therefore developed a Europe-wide directive that calls on companies to pay closer attention to the use of sustainability and environment-related formulations for marketing purposes in the future.
This seems to be urgently needed, because according to a study carried out by the EU Commission in 2020, more than 50% of the statements made by companies on their products with regard to sustainability and climate protection were inaccurate or deceptive.
Uniform rules across Europe, developed on the basis of scientific findings and international standards, are intended to give consumers certainty about product claims.
Lobbying vs. consumer protection
So far, so good. But this bill illustrates the problem with political decisions: Where do we put the focus of our work? On the people of Europe as consumers or on the economic strengthening of companies? Many individual factors play a role in a decision, especially for major issues such as environmental and climate protection: national priorities and sensitivities, global requirements, the interests of NGOs and business associations. It is a mammoth project to reconcile all these factors and reach a compromise that suits as many parties as possible.
Where is the company's own ethical positioning?
In all this, one thing should not be forgotten: Greenwashing is also an ethical issue. Companies that engage in greenwashing deliberately deceive their customers, contributing to a false understanding of environmental issues. Their business practices can also ensure that genuine sustainability efforts are undermined by reducing consumer confidence in environmentally friendly initiatives and products.
A huge responsibility thus rests on companies. How do they plan to position themselves and go forward? Consumers today are more educated about issues (or can easily obtain this information) due to the digital availability of information, and more empowered in using this knowledge for their own consumer behavior: A company's business conduct that is not accepted by the public can thus quickly be reflected in its own profitability.
What to do?
It is therefore in a company's own best interest to respond to the wishes and needs of its customers for transparency and sustainable action and to reconcile these with its own business capability. In the long term, this is how companies remain competitive and survive in the market.
Once the company's own sustainability strategy is in place, it is important to communicate it to employees in all its facets and to increase their awareness through education and training. Only in this way can they make the corporate values visible internally within the company and externally with their activities.
With our e-learning channel on sustainability, the topic is illuminated from different perspectives for your employees. The goal is company-wide awareness and the creation of inspiration to act sustainably. In this way, the aspect of responsible and sustainable development can be introduced by each individual in their personal area of responsibility without greenwashing.