Greenwashing: The effects of climate-change focused consumers

The increase in awareness and concern of climate change among Australians is great news. The effects include more sustainable lifestyle choices by government, people, and corporations. But, sometimes, these sustainability claims by companies are unsupported or exaggerated, called greenwashing.  

What is greenwashing?

Greenwashing is overstating, misleading or making false claims about the sustainability or positive impact on the environment of the product.  Some companies attempt to capitalise on the social responsibility of consumers by marketing that they action the often-expensive climate focused claims without substantial research to back it up.  Another way companies mislead consumers is by making deceptive claims. Saying “now using 50% more recycled materials,” without saying the actual number of materials is an example of this.

What is being done to stop greenwashing?

With the increase in greenwashing, there has also been a rise in enforcement by consumer protection groups.  The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) launched an investigation into false claims on sustainability in October. 

“As consumers become increasingly interested in purchasing sustainable products, there are growing concerns that some businesses are falsely promoting their environmental or green credentials. Misleading claims about products or services undermine consumer trust and confidence in the market,” ACCC Deputy Chair Delia Rickard said. 

Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC) has also acted against this misconduct, issuing infringement notices on greenwashing this year. From this, Australian consumers can expect for their products to face more regulation on the claims about the environmental impact. But it is still important to be able to make informed decisions independently. 

Sadly the issue of greenwashing is likely to increase without greater awareness and regulation. 

Why is there an increase in greenwashing?

Because, the Australian consumer market has shifted its beliefs around climate change and its willingness to make decisions with climate change in mind. For example, the 2021 Climate Action Survey conducted by Griffith University’s Climate Action Beacon found that 72.5% of Australians are concerned about climate change. This is compared to 35% a decade earlier. These concerns have translated into action by consumers.  About 70% of consumers indicated they would pay between 10%-100% more for an ‘eco’ appliance over a less environmentally friendly alternative, and companies are aware of this.  

How to spot greenwashing

If you’re a consumer looking to avoid purchasing a greenwashed product of service, here are five things to watch out for : 

  • Looking out for vague claims and jargon that do not include numbers, sources or specifics 
  • Avoiding terminology that is not expanded upon or could mean different things to different people 
  • Thinking about the source of the product, not just the product itself.  An energy efficient lightbulb’s production could pollute a river 
  • Researching legitimate third-party endorsements, and watch out for labels that attempt to replicate something official 
  • Fact checking claims made by products through background research 

Wanting to purchase green products should not be a burden on Australians.  Companies need clear, correct language to accurately describe their business model and supply chain sourcing.  Between government agencies and personal purchasing power, consumers can spend their money on products that align with their values.   

Written by Arden Lunay
Arden has a passion for combining creative communication skills with social justice knowledge to create change. She is bringing a fresh outlook to the industry and excited to share her ideas.