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What is Green Marketing? ‘Green washing’ no longer washes

Introducing an environmental variable in business and marketing processes has become a must-do. But there’s a significant difference between green marketing and green washing.

Green marketing vs. green washing

What is Green Marketing?

Green marketing: a general definition

There are plenty of definitions of green marketing, often different from one another or even contradictory in their explanations. The most common definition notes green marketing as: ‘the promotion of products, services or activities described as environmentally safer or more sustainable’.

Green marketing involves a wide range of activities which can change regularly and include featuring a product to improve its:

  • Environmental impact;

  • Production systems;

  • Formats;

  • Packaging;

  • Production methods.

John Grant: The green marketing manifesto

The green marketing manifesto by John Grant, published in 2008, identifies the famous ‘5 i’s’ of green marketing. It has to be:

Intuitive: Technological innovations must be easy to understand and acceptable for as many consumers as possible

Integral: It has to combine economical, social and technological aspects.

Innovative: We must create new products, services and activities able to generate true innovations which are able to really change a consumer’s lifestyle.

Inviting: Choosing to pursue a green marketing approach has to be perceived as an advantage and an opportunity to grow, not as a sacrifice or strain.

Informative: It must help generate knowledge and education for present and future generations.

Green marketing in the short and long term

Green marketing can express itself through short term goals. These can be about many different things that primarily focus on the environment, such as reducing waste, utilising recycled or recyclable materials, reducing use of plastic and other pollutants, reducing dimensions of packaging or making donations to entities protecting the environment.

As well as this, they can be about social and ethical themes like not utilising animals for testing or by applying high quality standards of living for animals, or guaranteeing executive roles and equal pay for women employed in the company and a benefits policy for all employees.

But, in order to really change the world, green marketing can express itself through long term goals:

Carbon neutrality: The balance between CO2 emitted in the atmosphere and absorbed, during all productive processes. It’s a complex project, only achievable with a careful plan of reducing CO2 emissions. The final goal is to become carbon negative, by removing from the atmosphere more CO2 than a company has emitted.

Energy independence: Complete autonomy from the public energy network. This goal is achievable through lots of small steps, such as reducing energy consumption or implementing alternative energy systems like solar panels or wind energy.

Reforestation: The activity of regenerating forests or green areas. This can help in both reduction of CO2 and an increase in the production of oxygen. Algae is an excellent example of plant life that can help in this area.

Examples of green marketing

Ikea has always been an example for other companies when it comes to green marketing, promoting its choices and values, showing its production processes and the selection of materials.


Credit: Ikea official site.

Simply put, green marketing is the promotion of the use of recycled/recyclable products, innovative energies and other practices that benefit the environment in the process of ideation, development, production, distribution and even promotion of a product or service.

What is Greenwashing and how to spot it

How to define greenwashing

Greenwashing, sometimes called an environmentalism façade, happens when a company creates a false feeling of its products or services being more environmentally friendly than they are or or even being beneficial for the environment.

The term “greenwashing” was coined in the 80’s by Jay Westerveld, who referred to hotels that displayed a card in rooms that asked their clients to reuse their towel in order to “save the world”. In reality they were just saving on laundry and management costs.

Signals of greenwashing

There are a series of red flags to help you spot greenwashing activities:

  1. Use of ambiguous words such as, “eco-friendly”, “all-natural”, “environmentally-friendly”, without saying why;

  2. Use of pictures and images that are “green” or of nature, often completely out of context and which aren’t genuine;

  3. Lack of proof, data and statistics supporting what is claimed to be;

  4. Use of internal data from the company itself which has not been confirmed by external independent sources.

Cases of greenwashing

Some typical cases, as shown in these articles, are the use of ambiguous slogans like “50% recycled”, implying that the whole product is made from 50% recycled materials, while only a part or a component of it is.

Products can also be described as “zero impact”, suggesting the whole production is compensated in some way, while just the first part of production is actually “zero impact” while others are not.

Another method is to announce the support of a beneficial campaign financed by sales of a specific product. This campaign can last only a few months while the products remain on the market for some years. It’s also typical for snack and soft drinks companies and fast food franchises to finance projects against obesity or to improve public health, ignoring the fact that their products are one of the main causes of the same problem they are ‘trying’ to solve.

The main difference between green marketing and greenwashing

The main difference between greenwashing and green marketing is that greenwashing offers an appearance of being environmentally friendly, without being sustained by facts. Therefore the information communicated or implied turns out to be either false or altered in some way.

Greenwashing generates a perception of being green in various ways, such as focusing on a specific aspect of a product. For example, claiming to not plastic straws when a product’s container is entirely made from plastic.

It’s worth mentioning that in Italy, greenwashing actions are punished by law and in 2021 Gorizia’s tribunal has handed down the ‘first greenwashing sentence’, classifying that claims such as ‘natural choice’ or ‘environmentally friendly’ are misleading advertising and too generic.

And in 2021, the UK government released the Green claims code to better regulate and guide businesses making environmental claims in the UK.

We have tried to highlight the main differences between green marketing and greenwashing in the table below:

Green washing includes shell communication, isn't provable, non-measurable, uses vague terms and produces minor costs for the company. Green marketing is the opposite - data-driven, clearly defined and anchored to few concepts.

Some examples of Greenwashing and Green Marketing

Image: A green forest on a product label.

Green marketing: Utilises the image to emphasise the initiative of planting a tree for every product purchased.

Greenwashing: Takes advantage of the image to remind the customer of an idea of nature and being green with no real connection to forests and trees.

Definition: “Cage-free” eggs.

Green marketing: Hens are free-range, treated with respect and fed with premium food.

Greenwashing: Hens aren’t kept in something that somebody would technically call a cage but are not free-range, are kept in awful conditions and eat poor quality food.

How and why we foster green marketing

Sustainability is a very serious challenge not without controversies. We think about it as a journey, improving everyday, even in marketing strategies, methods and tools.

For example, Pure Air Zone is a tool that perfectly fits in a green marketing journey. Every Pure Air Zone is a bubble of pure air, which by definition, contributes to the decontamination of the air while the dashboard Index keeps track of the process. Alongside this, each Pure Air Zone is mapped in an app that highlights virtuous companies.

As such, it is a service that has a big impact on green marketing because it’s:

  • Substantial - Every Pure Air Zone provides a real contribution in decontaminating the air;

  • Measurable - Each Pure Air Zone is provable and based on specific data (a set of IoT sensors and a software dashboard which measures air quality in real time);

  • Creating value - Each Pure Air Zone creates safe areas for clients and employees as well as for the environment itself.

Download the pure air white paper



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