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3 Tipps, wie Du Unternehmen beim Greenwashing entlarven kannst

Here you have learned what greenwashing is and which methods companies use to deceive you. In this article, we would like to explain in more detail how you can tell if companies are using greenwashing methods.

In general, you should always be skeptical, especially if companies are very vague in their statements. You can also assume that the likelihood of greenwashing increases the larger a company is. With these 3 tips, you can recognize brazen greenwashing lies in the future.

Greenwashing erkennen

1. Use the right apps

Since many greenwashing methods are now very sophisticated, you often can’t avoid actively researching them yourself. For those for whom this takes too much energy or time, apps like GoodOnYou or CodeCheck are a good start. These apps assess the sustainability efforts of companies or products and inform you about problematic ingredients or production conditions, for example. However, each provider takes a different approach. In the case of CodeCheck, there was criticism in the past that not all the data stored was up to date and that some harmful substances were not even declared as such. In 2021, the company behind CodeCheck filed for bankruptcy. It remains exciting to see whether the app will continue to be updated and remain in existence. Since the rating methods are never 100% transparent and advertisements/market research must be used to generate revenue, these apps can only be a first clue in terms of greenwashing.

The app Buycott shows you which brands belong to which group. Of course, this does not always have to be a criterion for exclusion, but it can help you to better classify a brand.

2. Make a meta-analysis of the brand

Often, there is no way around looking at the company as a whole. Truly sustainable companies integrate socially and environmentally responsible measures into their entire operations, not just a small product line or a few locations. Therefore, a good starting point is to ask yourself how certain sustainability efforts fit into the overall context of the company. This can be very well categorized by reviewing the following questions:

By asking yourself these questions, you can get a good first impression of what kind of company you are dealing with. The following applies here: 

You should be much more skeptical about companies that have attracted negative attention in the past or are currently doing so.

Compare public relations with company policy

Since greenwashing is primarily a PR strategy, it very rarely coincides with the company’s actual actions. For example, by looking at the company’s political engagement, you can quickly assess whether the sustainability efforts are in line with what the company is doing. A good example is energy companies that like to present themselves as green, but continue to advocate a coal phase-out as late as possible.

You should also ask yourself why this campaign or activity is being done right now. For example, is there an unpopular bill right now that this is intended to prevent? Are they trying to appease a citizens’ group?

Another good place to start is to look at how the company deals with criticism and critics in general. Are critics ignored or are attempts made to belittle them or make them unbelievable? If so, you should have all the warning signals going off.

Pay attention to transparency

The extent to which companies share information about their products and supply chains with the public allows conclusions to be drawn about whether the company concerned is trying to hide something. What figures does it publish and how do they come about? What information does it deliberately keep under wraps?

Often, the supply chain issue in particular is a black box for consumers at many companies. Very few companies communicate any or only incomplete information about their suppliers. So at best, you learn about the supplier company, but nothing about the working conditions on site. Because not only environmental aspects are often glossed over. There is also a tendency to deceive about how workers are treated in supplier factories (keyword “sweatwash”). To prevent this, there are the so-called ESG criteria, with which the social compatibility of the supply chain is certified.

Check the numbers

Even if companies publicly communicate internal figures, you can’t always take them at face value. It is important that the figures are verifiable. If, on the other hand, a company only publishes relative figures or if they are not verifiable, you should be very skeptical about the statements made.

Companies like to boast about investments in sustainable projects or products, for example, or announce them. In order to realistically assess how important sustainability is to the company, you should put these investments into perspective. Often, such projects make up a much smaller share of the total investment than they admit, especially in large companies.

Do not fall for eco rhetoric

A great many companies are now making use of terms from the field of sustainability. Popular terms include “climate-friendly”, “climate-neutral”, “environmentally friendly”, “fair”, “biologically certified”, “CO²-neutral”. The problem, however, is that these terms are not legally protected or defined. What the individual understands by it is thus a matter of interpretation.

So “vegan” sounds very good at first, if you want to avoid animal suffering. Unfortunately, vegan products are instead often made from petroleum and are correspondingly harmful to our planet. Another example are “natural” raw materials like palm oil and viscose. If something is “natural”, that sounds good at first. What is not addressed is that both raw materials are responsible for a not insignificant part of deforestation worldwide.

Pay attention to the right certificates

Companies often advertise their products with fictitious, self-created or irrelevant certifications and labels. This allows them to influence which criteria they are subject to, and it is easy to deceive consumers. By looking for trustworthy certificates, you can be sure that the company is making serious efforts in the area of sustainability. These labels should be independent and externally awarded and monitored.

However, there is a plethora of certificates out there. For example, in the area of clothing and textiles, the Cradle to Cradle certificate for fully biodegradable and compostable products is worth highlighting. If you are interested, you can get a good overview of the various certificates and their trustworthiness at siegelklarheit.de. The information is also available as an app.

An exciting app focusing on organic and fair trade in this area is the NABU seal check. Here you are shown a collection of requirements for companies to obtain the respective seal.

3. remain skeptical and ask questions

As you can see, there are some clues that you can use to identify greenwashing. In the first step, apps like GoodOnYou might help you. But if you’re serious about your efforts, there’s usually no way around doing your own research.

In our current economic system, it is unfortunately far too easy to deceive consumers and thereby make higher profits. The range of greenwashing scandals is extensive and growing every day.

However, by actively addressing the issue yourself and questioning corporate messages, you can make your own contribution to curbing greenwashing. With our magazine, we also want to make a contribution to educating people about greenwashing and integrating real sustainability into everyday life.

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