Why does Greenwashing matter? Take a browse down the aisle at your local pharmacy and you’ll see shelves stocked with beauty products offering an array of green promises. Terms like ‘eco-friendly’, ‘green’, ‘sustainable’ and ‘clean’ crop up consistently. But, in an industry that has very little transparency around standards and supply chains, it can be hard to know if there is any real substance behind these claims.
Greenwashing is not a necessarily a new tactic, but it has certainly ramped up in recent years as consumer demand for more environmentally friendly options skyrocketed. The growth rate of the green cosmetics market has far outpaced that of the cosmetics industry as a whole, so it’s easy to understand why brands are so keen to play in the space.
However, brands are increasingly being called out on their greenwashing practices. So, whilst the green packaging and ambiguous promises of ‘eco-friendly’ products might provide some short-term gain, it can also cause long-term reputational damage if brands are accused of greenwashing.
Earlier this year, young activists on Tik-Tok called out Procter & Gamble after its executives spoke at CES2021 on the organisation’s sustainability initiatives. In videos that attracted over 300,000 views, users raised concerns over the declining caribou habitat, boreal forest destruction, and Indigenous sovereignty in Canada – where toilet paper brand Charmin source their fibre.
The increasing number of tools available to consumers is partly responsible for this growing trend of holding brands accountable. ClimateBert, a newly developed AI tool analysed annual reports and marketing of 800 companies and revealed that greenwashing was rampant.
France have introduced fines for brands caught greenwashing, while younger consumers have turned to eco experts on Tik Tok and Instagram, who specialise in deciphering baseless marketing jargon for their followers. All this means that the chances of a brand getting away with greenwashing are slimmer than ever.
However, it is not only brands being ‘called out’ that is driving meaningful change: many brands are introducing changes to their products particularly when it comes to reducing packaging. The Body Shop recently committed to making their products refillable, whilst L’Occitane opened a Mega Sustainability Concept Store in Hong Kong’s Pacific Place shopping centre, an outlet that markets wrapper-free soap and accepts plastic containers (from L’Occitane and other brands) for recycling
The willingness of Millenials and Gen Z to put their money where their mouth is means that brands who have failed to match their marketing jargon with real-world change risk long-term reputational damage. As consumers continue to seek out products that can back their environmental claims up, they’ll become increasingly educated and move away from brands known for empty or misleading promises.
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