Know the differences between greenwashing and green PR

By Fodhla O'Connell-Grennell

Green PR is a form of public relations that specifically communicates an organisation's corporate social responsibility and environmental practices to the public. Their aim is to increase brand awareness and to improve the organisation's reputation. However, greenwashing is a mechanism used to market a brand as environmentally friendly when in fact, they are not. They usually spend more time and money on doing this than on lowering their environmental impact.

Tools which are used in green PR include placing news articles, winning awards, communicating with environmental groups and distributing publications. Brands who use green PR are always thinking of innovative ideas to make themselves eco-friendlier so that they can position themselves as the leading drivers of sustainability. It is like a building block system: Another ‘green’ block that they add, is another key message for them to promote.

Greenwashing is completely dubious. Examples include, promoting a sustainable fashion range in a fast fashion company when they have made no sustainable changes to their company as a whole and chocolate brands promoting that their cocoa beans are sustainably sourced, all while they are using ingredients like palm oil in their chocolate. Greenwashing is not always easy to distinguish, because in theory what they are saying can be true, such as, ‘100% sustainably-sourced cocoa beans’, but in practice this does not make their brand an eco-friendly company. They are tricking the consumer into believing that they are doing something good for the environment, when they are also the biggest contributors to environmental damage through factors, such as, textile wastage or releasing carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.

To avoid being a victim of greenwashing, researching is key. Don’t be fooled by cleverly constructed packaging. Environmental imagery and empty statements don’t always mean it is good for the planet. Avoid the products who are using vague claims, such as, ‘eco-friendly’ or ‘sustainably-sourced’; instead look for statistics and information about how the product is sustainable and eco-friendly. Usually if a brand is really trying to become kinder to the planet, they will outline all of the steps they are taking to ensure bad practices are lost and they will also communicate their goals while doing this. Become familiar with the FTC Green Guides so you know which types of claims require verification and disregard any that don’t. Pick brands whose products have third-party certifications as to get these labels, a brand must work hard and show initiative and dedication. Finally, double check the third-party’s website to ensure that the brand has earned the label they claim to have.

Becoming more aware will ensure that you are able to spot the difference between greenwashing and green PR quickly. It will make you feel more confident about the products you are purchasing and it will bring you one step closer to becoming eco-friendlier too. There are great companies out there who are trying their best to help save the planet and they need to recognised for their hard work.