Previously, sustainability has been a half-hearted marketing effort. Companies, though they claimed sustainable practices, were paying lip service rather than making any actionable changes. However, recently, consumers have become a lot more discerning. They now know what they’re looking for and are more widely aware of marketing techniques like greenwashing. This change in consumer thinking comes largely as a result of improved education surrounding sustainability.
Greenwashing: What is it, and why is it an issue?
So, companies, especially large corporations, are guilty of greenwashing. But what on earth is greenwashing, and why is it such an issue? With social responsibility now high on consumers’ lists of wants, large corporations are being forced to follow suit. This increased pressure from consumers has put large companies at a big disadvantage. Whilst smaller companies tend to naturally work more ethically, large corporations famed for fast fashion and beauty are finding this shift in thinking extremely problematic. Thus, in the rush to follow and exceed social responsibility standards, companies began greenwashing.
Greenwashing itself is essentially simply an exaggeration of sustainability practices. It involves misleading consumers without actually lying to them. Greenwashing is largely successful because of the lack of consumer education around proper sustainability practices. This tactic is often more about PR and diversion than anything else. The company manages to improve the impression it gives the consumers without breaking the law by making false claims.
Unfortunately, this practice tends to lead consumers to believe that they are buying from companies that boast sustainable practices. However, the company in question hasn’t actually changed its behavior at all. Consumers are ultimately misled and end up buying from companies that aren’t as sustainably as they claim to be.
Consumers are starting to prioritize sustainability
However, consumers are beginning to become wise to these greenwashing tactics used by large corporations. Consumers are beginning to make decisions on food, drinks, fashion, and even beauty based on the brand’s sustainability practices. In fact, according to Highlight, decision-making based on sustainability is up 25% over the past two years. This comes despite the worry of recession as a result of the global Covid-19 pandemic. More and more, consumers are seeing the value of paying more for sustainable products. It seems that lately, the biggest driver when it comes to purchasing decision-making is sustainability and “concern for the environment”.
Who is behind this increased demand?
Largely, this demand for environmentally sustainable products is due to the Millennial and Gen Z markets. Consumers are largely willing to pay more for sustainable products. They are also more willing to take more time to investigate and research companies.
This allows them to make much more informed purchasing decisions and largely, to avoid traps such as greenwashing. In fact, when it comes to premium pricing, according to a 2015 report from Nielsen, a massive 66% of consumers say that they are willing to pay a premium for a sustainable product.
In the same report, 73% of millennials agreed that they would pay a premium. And this is not a new thing, with consumers choosing to buy eco-friendly and sustainable products despite the premium price has been on the increase since 2009. The research group Green Seal and EnviroMedia Social Marketing found that, despite the recession, “four out of five people said they bought green products”. So, when it comes to who is behind this increased demand for sustainable products, the answer lies in the new, powerful consumer groups: Gen Z’s and Millennials. Furthermore, these groups are leading and educating older generations of consumers about what is and isn’t sustainable as well as how to go about living a more eco-friendly life.
How you can choose more sustainable products
Going the sustainable route can be a complicated business. For instance, replacing your appliances with more energy-efficient ones is a good idea. Unfortunately, this means having to discard the old appliances. Unfortunately, largely, these discarded electronics end up being dumped and are even more of a hazard to the environment as they break down. And that’s only if they can break down. Marketers are also to blame for making the search for sustainable products so difficult. False claims and greenwashing can mislead even the savviest consumers. Thus, the consumer has to be motivated to do extra research. Which, let’s be honest, most of us aren’t going to do.
It seems that, at least now, the best way to tell if a product really is as sustainable and eco-friendly as it claims to be, is to rely on third-party certification. You want to look for certification from reliable organizations that have nothing to gain or lose by certifying (or not certifying) the product. These include companies such as Green Seal, Scientific Certification Systems (SCS), Energy Star, and Ecologo. Another good way to make sure that you are choosing what’s best for you and the environment is to utilize websites such as GreenerChoices. There are many criteria you can utilize when deciding whether to buy a product whether it claims to be green or not, including:
Asking questions such as:
- How much energy was used?
- Is it energy efficient? (especially in the case of appliances)
- Will it create excess pollution when I have to get rid of it, or can it be recycled?
Other things to consider include:
- Packaging (especially non-recyclable)
- Whether there are more eco-friendly or sustainable options
- Is it reusable and, if not, recyclable?
- If it is plastic and is likely to be toxic and cause pollution, can you find a way to reuse it?
- Were any animals harmed?
- Is this product made in an ethical way?
- Are the people who are making the product being treated ethically and paid fairly?
- Where was the product made?