Understanding ‘Greenwashing’ in the Marketplace

July 18, 2017


Environmentally friendly, green products and services. These have become literal buzz words when it comes to marketing. Creating environmentally safe products and or services that use recycled material and have little carbon footprint have become very important to consumers and businesses alike. But just because the products says it’s ‘green’ on the packaging, does that mean it really is?

Greenwashing, as it is called, is simply marketing spin when a company makes claims about its products or manufacturing process which likely would not stand up under environmental testing. The term greenwashing was started by a New York environmentalist Jay Westervelt:

Wiki: In a 1986 essay regarding the hotel industry's practice of placing placards in each room promoting reuse of towels ostensibly to "save the environment." Westervelt noted that, in most cases, little or no effort toward reducing energy waste was being made by these institutions—as evidenced by the lack of cost reduction this practice affected. Westervelt opined that the actual objective of this "green campaign" on the part of many hoteliers was, in fact, increased profit. Westervelt thus labeled this and other outwardly environmentally conscientious acts with a greater, underlying purpose of profit increase as greenwashing.

Greenwashing has become an issue in the marketplace over the last decade as those who simply want to make a buck at any cost realize the value of positioning something as environmentally friendly. The problem is unless someone files a complaint with BBB or the Competition Bureau of Canada, there is little that would happen in terms of enforcement against misleading advertising.

BBB has strict provisions in its Code of Advertising in this respect.


  • Advertisers should not make broad, unqualified general environmental benefit claims like “green” or “eco-friendly.”
  • Advertisers must qualify general claims with specific environmental benefits.
  • Advertisers must possess competent and reliable evidence (often scientific evidence) to support all environmental benefit claims. Qualifications for any claim must be clear, conspicuous and understandable.
  • When an advertiser qualifies a general claim with a specific benefit, the benefit should be significant. Advertisers must not highlight small or unimportant benefits.
  • Unless clear from the context, any environmental claim must specify clearly and conspicuously whether the claim applies to the product, the product’s packaging, a service or just to a portion of the product, package or service.

We at BBB like to think that an honest business will advertise honestly and follow our environmental benefit guidelines. Anything less is deceptive advertising. The Competition Bureau of Canada has a similar list within the Competition Act, however, as simple guidelines, it’s still up to the consumer to trust what they read.

From www.competitionbureau.gc.ca

The guidelines are not regulations, and deviations from the Guide might not, in and of themselves, represent a contravention of the Competition Act and/or the labeling statutes enforced by the Competition Bureau. Environmental claims that raise concerns under these statutes may be examined on a case-by-case basis, and each case will be assessed on its own merits. Consumers may find the guidelines helpful when trying to evaluate environmental claims. It is nevertheless up to the consumer to evaluate the pertinence of the information that is associated with environmental claims for products and services.