Jay Westerveld coined the term greenwashing in 1986. It was born in response to Chevron’s announcements promoting a green image for a company that had a bad environmental reputation.
The tactic of using environmentalism, green images and popular slogans associated with protecting the planet is typical of greenwashing campaigns.
Corporate Responsibility Magazine defines it as:
The phenomenon of socially and environmentally destructive societies, which try to preserve and expand their markets or power by pretending to be environmentally friendly.
Companies know that consumers are interested in conservation and are worried about waste.
Of the millennials Bruce Watson surveyed for the Guardian (2016), a whopping 72% said they would pay more for sustainable products.
Companies are increasingly promoting environmental campaigns without a real strategy for sustainable development. This is to leverage Gen Z’s desire for activism, which however is ready to verify and disseminate its findings through social media.
According to a study by the European Commission on the sustainability claims of 344 companies, published in January 2021, in 59% of cases there is no access to certification of their truthfulness, and in 37% these were misleading.
More than the word resilience, in recent years, the term sustainability has become one of the most used, repeated and abused in the fashion industry.
Brands realized that labeling their products as ‘recyclable’, ‘reusable’, ‘ethical’, and green was more effective than using technical definitions and acronyms that few know the true meaning of.
Unjustified use of the sustainability glossary has led consumers to question the legitimacy of brand values and their supply chain.
Greenwashing and a lack of transparency have forced consumers to increasingly rely on their knowledge. Often buying one product rather than another as an act of trust.
The studies investigated the effect of these words in marketing operations and their impact on four generations: Baby Boomers, Gen X, Millennials and Gen Z. There are words that hit all four audiences, and others that are more effective on audiences of similar ages.
The claim ‘recycled’ appears in the first three choices of three out of four generations.
This result may be due to the fact that the term, compared to the others, is much clearer, intuitive, less technical and therefore easy to understand.
When asked to analyze the word ‘recycled’, a consumer understands perfectly that that definition identifies a product made from existing materials.
The same goes for the word ‘reusable’, which means that the product can be used more than once.
Baby Boomer and Gen X, who come from an older, pre-internet demographic base their choices on two easily understood words. They are convinced by a generic vocabulary.
Conversely, Millennials and Gen Z, who share a mentality formed and influenced largely by the Internet, have different perspectives on the issue.
The topic of sustainability has experienced its peak and its greatest popularity in recent years with the movement created by Greta Thunberg. The young woman has gathered most of the supporters right among Gen Z, and this is also reflected in the words to which the young audience reacts best.
Before asking what are the terms that push consumers to buy “sustainable”, we should first ask what is meant by sustainability.
Fashion brands, which have always confused the final consumer, began to think that anything that could do good for the environment, or at least that would not harm it, was worthy of the sustainable and/or organic definition.
If we were more careful we would realize that when we think of buying something organic, green, grown in harmony with nature, we would know that even the “organic” ingredient has led to the death of animals, the destruction of biodiversity like so many others. But it absolved himself of all responsibility by adding a certified “organic” logo on the product.
This emerged from a contradiction well pointed out by Siddharth Somaiya, founder of the skincare brand Organic Riot.
In Indonesia, an “organic” palm oil plantation has led to large-scale deforestation with the killing of about 100,000 Bornean orangutans.
For this reason, the skincare brand has decided to review all the labels and definitions that accompanied its products. One example is the term ‘recyclable’, which could only be true for 9% of all plastic used for packaging.
The research also reveals that Gen X (37%), Millennial (50%) and Gen Z (38%) consumers are three times more likely to value sustainability when shopping than Baby Boomers. However, if faced with the choice of buying a product that is certainly green compared to one they are unsure of, even Baby Boomers are led to choose the green option.
61% of adults consider products with minimal environmental impact as the best example of sustainability. While 60% of them claim that buying only sustainable products is expensive.
In short, what would really be crucial is transparency of the media, which should be able to (re) educate the public, and transparency of brands that should implement 100% green practices. Because otherwise greenwashing will continue to act passively/aggressively, destroying all the public’s commitment to a more sustainable world.