Regulatory Compliance

Greenwashing - definition and examples

At a time where environmental consciousness is on the rise, companies are increasingly eager to showcase their green credentials. However, not all eco-friendly claims are as genuine as they seem. Greenwashing has become a significant concern. Understanding greenwashing, its origins, and its implications is essential for businesses to effectively communicate their sustainability goals in honest and robust ways to their customers, stakeholders and investors alike. 

What is greenwashing?

Greenwashing is a deceptive marketing practice where a company falsely promotes their products, services, or overall environmental practices as environmentally friendly. The aim is to mislead consumers into believing that the company is making significant positive contributions to environmental sustainability when, in reality, their efforts are minimal or non-existent. 

This practice often involves exaggerating claims about the environmental benefits of a product or omitting information that might reveal a more complex or less favorable environmental impact. Greenwashing undermines global efforts to meet international climate targets set by bodies like the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), hindering the achievement of crucial sustainability goals. 

Specifically, greenwashing impedes progress towards the objectives of the Paris Agreement, which aims to limit global temperature rise to below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, with an aspiration to keep it below 1.5 degrees Celsius.


While the intentions behind promoting green products may seem noble, the reality is that greenwashing often masks the true environmental impact of a company's operations. In exploring this phenomenon, numerous examples illustrate how greenwashing tactics can range from subtle misrepresentations to blatant falsehoods, ultimately undermining genuine efforts to achieve global environmental goals. Some examples include:

Misleading labels or claims

Using terms like "green," "eco-friendly," or "natural" without substantive evidence or certification.

Irrelevant claims

Highlighting a small environmental benefit while ignoring larger negative impacts, such as promoting recyclable packaging while the product itself is harmful to the environment.

Imagery and branding

Using nature imagery, green colors, and eco-themed branding to create an illusion of sustainability without substantive practices backing it up.

Additionally, greenwashing complicates the work of regulators and policymakers, such as the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the European Environment Agency (EEA), leading to stricter regulations and oversight requirements. 

While greenwashing has increasingly gained media attention and further regulation over the years, it is not a new concept. In fact, examples of greenwashing can be found as early as the 1960s. One early example involved hotels encouraging guests to reuse towels, ostensibly to benefit the environment, but primarily to reduce laundry costs. This practice marked the beginning of businesses using environmental claims to cover up their primary profit motives

Why do companies greenwash?

Companies engage in greenwashing for several reasons, primarily driven by the desire to enhance their image and capitalize on the growing consumer demand for sustainable and environmentally friendly products. Here are some key motivations behind greenwashing:

Market advantage

With increasing awareness and concern about environmental issues, consumers are more likely to choose products they perceive as eco-friendly. Companies greenwash to attract these environmentally conscious consumers and gain a competitive edge in the market.

Profit maximization

Green products often command higher prices, allowing companies to boost their profit margins. By greenwashing, companies can charge premium prices for products that appear sustainable without necessarily incurring the costs associated with genuine environmental practices.

Brand image

 Associating a brand with positive environmental attributes can enhance its overall image and reputation. Companies use greenwashing to project a socially responsible image, which can improve customer loyalty and brand value.

Regulatory compliance

In some cases, companies may greenwash to appear as though they are complying with environmental regulations and standards, thereby avoiding scrutiny from regulators and minimizing the risk of legal penalties.

Investor appeal

Increasingly, investors are looking to support companies that prioritize sustainability. By presenting themselves as environmentally responsible, companies can attract investment from those interested in supporting green initiatives.

Public relations

 Greenwashing can be a tactic to divert attention from other negative aspects of a company's operations. By highlighting minor eco-friendly initiatives, companies can shift focus away from their larger environmental or ethical shortcomings.

Pressure from stakeholders

 Companies may feel pressured by various stakeholders, including customers, employees, and advocacy groups, to adopt greener practices. Greenwashing provides a way to appease these stakeholders without making substantial changes.

While the motivations for greenwashing may offer short-term benefits for companies, the long-term consequences include damaging consumer trust, undermining genuine sustainability efforts, and potentially facing backlash from regulators and the public.

What are the risks?

Organizations that engage in greenwashing face significant risks that can have long-term negative consequences. Damage to reputation is one of the most immediate and severe risks, as exposure of deceptive environmental claims can lead to a loss of trust among consumers, investors, and other stakeholders. This loss of trust can result in consumer backlash, including boycotts and negative publicity, which can harm sales and market share. 

Regulatory bodies - such as the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) in the United States or the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) in the UK - may impose fines and legal actions for false advertising, adding to the financial strain. Additionally, companies may face costly lawsuits from consumers or advocacy groups and may need to invest heavily in damage control and rebranding efforts.

In the long run, reliance on deceptive practices instead of genuine sustainability efforts can hinder a company's ability to remain competitive in a market increasingly focused on environmental responsibility. Ultimately, while greenwashing might offer short-term gains, the long-term risks far outweigh the benefits, making it imperative for companies to invest in authentic environmental practices and transparent communication.

Greenwashing and carbon reporting

Greenwashing in carbon reporting involves companies misrepresenting or exaggerating their efforts and achievements in reducing carbon emissions to appear more environmentally responsible than they truly are. For example, companies might report inflated or exaggerated reductions in their carbon emissions without having made significant changes to their operations. This can involve selective reporting periods or excluding certain high-emission activities from their calculations.

Companies might set an inappropriate or misleading baseline year against which they measure their emissions reductions. Choosing a year with unusually high emissions as a baseline can make subsequent reductions appear more significant than they are. To mitigate this risk, organizations should consider investing in an emissions data platform to ensure that this baseline is accurate, and that any goal -setting is realistic and achievable, so as not to cross the line into greenwashing. 

How Minimum can help

Minimum can help organizations to understand their existing carbon output, and create plans to mitigate climate related risks in the future.  Our Emissions Data Platform seamlessly collects and processes emissions data from every corner of your organization and supply chain - no matter the format. Making it the ideal platform for emissions audits and all-round business intelligence. 

Learn more about how Minimum's Emission Data Platform can help to power you all the way to Net Zero today.