What is Greenwashing? A Deep Dive into the Six Types

By now it’s likely we’re all familiar with the term ‘greenwashing’. Simply put, it’s the unsubstantiated environmental claims made by companies and corporations, that mislead consumers into believing that the products, services, or policies of those organizations are environmentally friendly. However, the term is broad, and is often used liberally, leading us to ask - what does greenwashing really mean?

A new report published by Planet Tracker warns that greenwashing has become a “many-headed beast”, and guilty companies have developed far more sophisticated tactics. This “beast” is a labyrinth of loopholes and discrepancies to dodge environmental accountability.

The irony is that companies are seemingly more willing to go through painstaking effort to appear eco-friendly than to actually make the switch to more sustainable and planet-friendly solutions. In a bid to hold companies more accountable, Planet Tracker has broken down greenwashing into six definitions that aim to define, capture, and understand this so-called “many-headed beast”.


“The Hidden Beast”


Greencrowding is the idea that companies keep a low profile amongst a crowd of other corporates which in turn keeps their environmentally damaging approaches hidden. A group of established companies may collaborate under the pretense of enforcing change, yet the sustainable goals are underdeveloped or not met. 

This is based on the idea of ‘safety in numbers’, and a prime example of this in practice is highlighted in the report, “Alliance to End Plastic Waste: Barely Credible” (AEPW). AEPW is an organization made up of 65 companies, including both oil and chemical giants, and their mission is ostensibly ‘to end plastic waste in the environment and protect the planet’. 

Yet Planet Tracker found that the AEPW is closely linked to the American Chemistry Council (ACC) which lobbied against negotiating framework for the Global Plastic Pollution Treaty. Moreover, both organizations promote plastic pollution solutions that prioritize recycling and recovery of plastics rather than the supply, however, 8 of the top 20 single-use plastic polluters are members. In total, AEPW recycled less than 0.0004% of global plastic waste.


“The Deceitful Beast”


Greenlighting is when a company shines a spotlight on a green feature of its operations or products (no matter how small), to divert attention away from other environmentally damaging activities elsewhere in the organization.  

This tactic is particularly prevalent within the car industry. Manufacturers often promote their sustainability campaigns, when in reality their low-emission vehicles make up a very small part of their production.

For example, a well-known car manufacturer pushes its “Beyond Zero” sustainability campaign with slogans such as “The Future looks Electric”. Yet only 0.2% of their total sales in 2021 were of zero-emission vehicles. Moreover, InfluenceMap, a global database of global corporate climate lobbying ranked this brand as the 10th most negative yet, influential corporation in the world. 

Fundamentally, greenlighting is a way for large corporations to trick prospective investors and customers into thinking that they are being proactive through their campaigns, yet when you peel back the layers, it exposes that it is merely a ploy to appear greener than they actually are. 



“The Gaslighting Beast”


Greenshifting is when companies shift the blame up or down the value chain, usually toward the customers/consumers. Corporations gaslight consumers into thinking that the blame lies with them and tries to encourage them to change.

A well-known example of greenshifting was the “know your carbon footprint” campaign from a fossil fuel company. This company released a calculator to measure consumers’ carbon footprint as it is ‘the first step in reducing your emissions’. However, according to ClientEarth, an environmental charity, within the same year of the calculator’s announcement, 96% of the company’s annual expenditure was still on gas and oil.

Companies shift the blame to consumers yet 100 of the top companies globally are responsible for just 70% of global industrial emissions. This figure has hardly shifted since 1988 which just highlights the lack of accountability these companies have.
There are however a number of tools available, including Kavalan’s Eco Calculator, that are designed to support businesses and consumers in their efforts to reduce carbon emissions in an honest and transparent way.


“The Misleading Beast”


Greenlabelling is when marketing departments mislead consumers through their adverts by claiming something is green when it isn’t. This differs from greenlighting as greenlabelling is founded on companies misleading consumers through advertisements with embellished information, whereas greenlighting distracts customers by showcasing exciting news to divert attention away from bad practices.  

When walking around supermarkets, often you will see packaging which boasts that it’s made up of “100% recycled plastic*”. Although this sounds great, it is rarely representing the whole truth. When you get home and take a closer look at the packaging, you will see that the small print shows that, while the bottle is 100% recycled plastic, the lid, label, and any other packaging are not. 

Greenlabelling deceives consumers into purchasing products and services that appear to be sustainable, but when you look closer at the fine print (something few of us have time for as we whizz around on our weekly shop) you can see that it isn’t as eco-friendly as it first seemed.


“The Divergent Beast”


Greenrinsing is when companies regularly change ESG targets before they have been achieved - they are constantly pushing the benchmark to look like they are getting somewhere, but in reality, they are doing very little. 

ESG is an acronym for Environmental, Social, and Governance, a set of standards measuring a business’s impact on society, including environmental impact.

When companies move, miss, or minimize the goalposts it can raise suspicion that the targets are merely a marketing ploy. A well-known beverage giant has previously been notably clever with caveats to explain the changing of recycling goals. 

Between 2020-2022, this major brand dropped its target for using recycled packaging from 50% by 2030 to 25%. It is possible that situations have arisen to cause them to drop their target, however, as this brand is one of the biggest plastic polluters in the world they should have credible and achievable recycling targets. 



“The Concealed Beast”

Greenhushing is when corporations underreport or hide their ESG targets and credentials to avoid stakeholder and public scrutiny. Companies might appear to hide their sustainability policies under the pretense of being ‘quietly conscientious’. 

Though some companies may hide their green practices to avoid seeming performative, save on resources and costs, or wish to test their credentials for longer before announcing them, this isn’t the case for all.

This form of greenwashing demonstrates how sophisticated greenwashing strategies have become. In recent months, many large asset management companies have downgraded their article 9 funds to article 8 classifications. Funds listed under article 9 are exclusively invested in sustainable assets, whereas article 8 are funds that promote sustainability but they don’t have to have a sustainable outcome. 

Some companies that have done this claim they are avoiding strict European regulations, however, another interpretation could be that these changes were made to avoid the Article 9 standard, and in turn, avoid any investor scrutiny. 


With greenwashing strategies becoming far more sophisticated, it’s clear that we need to break the term down into more transparent and specific terminology. Hopefully, this will provide stakeholders with the tools needed to see through the smoke and mirrors and make more informed opinions on the companies they work with and buy from. 

At Kavalan, we want to tell a truthful and transparent story when we talk about our PVC-free wide-format banner materials. That’s why we partnered with leading inspection and validation service SCS to carry out Life Cycle Analysis (LCA) on Kavalan products, allowing us to provide verified data on Kavalan’s environmental impact. This quality assessment and comprehensive data forms the foundation of the Kavalan Eco Calculator, which reveals how much a switch to Kavalan can reduce your carbon footprint. 

Want to get started with Kavalan? Find your nearest distributor here.


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