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  • Writer's pictureStephen Adshead

Greenwashing: Don't Be It's Latest Victim

Let's talk about greenwashing and what to look out for when companies make products seem more sustainable than they are.

What is greenwashing?

Greenwashing is a term which describes the approach taken by companies to advertise themselves, or their products as being environmentally friendly or sustainable than they are.

Personally, I started to notice this more and more during the height of COP26, when it seemed as if companies were cashing in on the opportunity for good publicity.

Business drivers to increase sustainability

  • With increasing environmental awareness, promoting a sustainable corporate image becomes more important to attract potential investors and customers

  • In practice, it can also become a cost saving tool for the company through the efficient use of resources as part of a circular economy. Introducing sustainable practices such as minimising waste through re-using, repairing and recycling, can massively reduce costs

  • In often crowded markets, having a competitive edge is vital. Promoting social responsibility and environmental performance can be the buzz words that seduce an environmentally conscious audience

The greenwashing tactics to look out for

To answer this, I have focused on the coffee sector, a huge market with a number of key players that are battling it out to prove to customers they really do care…

Making promises to generate positive publicity is common within the industry. For example, Costa ‘vowed to become the first coffee chain in the UK to recycle as many takeaway cups as it sells, by 2020’ (Icarus Complex, 2019).

These ‘easy on the eye’ slogans that you often see adorning billboards or television adverts are a cost-effective marketing tool to attract the most climate conscience among us.

However, these often turn out to be false promises that were at best, wishful thinking. A quick look at Costa’s own data showed that during the six months following their announcement, they had recycled 41 million cups, just 8.2% of their original ‘promise’.

Starbucks is another coffee giant who don’t mind playing their own hand at duping the public. Through the promotion of their self-proclaimed sustainable practices such as sourcing coffee from sustainable farms, they are at the same time aiming to hide their own unsustainable approaches such as ‘wasteful water practices’ and excessive fossil fuel consumption (Lozanova, S, 2009).

Finally, often when these coffee giants receive bad press about the sheer number of coffee cups that can be seen littering the pavements and parks of our local towns, they introduce new 'recyclable' cups to sell in-store.

However, what soon becomes clear is, like most coffee cups, they are manufactured with a plastic lining that can only be recycled at specialist facilities, requiring consumers to dispose of them in designated recycling zones (Icarus Complex, 2019).

Whilst most of us try to act responsibly where we can, I wonder how many of us would be willing to hunt out these ‘recycling zones’ to ensure our cup is recycled?

Now its up to you!

With an increased awareness and knowledge of the tactics used you can now make informed decisions on where your money is spent.

Maybe try that local independent coffee shop you’ve been meaning to pop into or bring a reusable coffee cup.

I’m not saying to be pessimistic about all companies that promote sustainable practices, but as that saying goes, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is!

By Stephen Adshead ©


Icarus Complex (2019) ‘How brands are ‘greenwashing’ you into a false sense of sustainability [Online] Available here

Lozanova, S. (2009) ‘Starbucks Coffee: Green or Greenwashed?’ [Online] Available here

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