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Green Washing: what it is and how to recognise the fake eco-friendly

Lately we have been hearing more and more about Green Washing. But what is it exactly? And why do companies claim to be eco-friendly when they actually aren't? In this article we will address these issues and find out how to defend ourselves against all those companies that only claim to be eco-friendly for marketing purposes.

green washing

What is Green Washing

Green washing is not a new phenomenon. We can trace this term back to the '90 when big American oil chemical companies, such as Chevron or DuPont, tried to give an eco-friendly idea of themselves to distract public attention about the pollution they were causing.

Green Washing is a neologism composed of the words: green (ecological) and whitewash (to cover up, to hide something).

This term therefore indicates the tendency of many companies to declare themselves sensitive to environmental issues, declaring that they follow an environmentally sustainable work process through non real green initiatives, made just to show or to divert attention from other polluting business dynamics.

A very common example? Create a bottle as a corporate gadget to avoid wasting plastic, when perhaps the daily production process does not absolutely avoid wasting and accumulating this material.

As Wikipedia reports, in fact:

Greenwashing is a neologism indicating the communication strategy of certain companies, organizations or political institutions aimed at building a deceptively positive self-image in terms of environmental impact, in order to divert public attention from the negative effects for the environment due to its activities or products.


Green Washing as a corporate marketing stunt

Unfortunately, Green Washing is a widespread phenomenon, especially today, when sustainability has gained a lot of appeal. In fact, many companies are hiding behind the terms of eco-sustainability and ethical process without doing anything concrete to protect the environment, using it  promotional message aimed at obtaining a corporate benefit.

TerraChoice has compiled the Sins of Greenwashing, a list of seven sins committed by companies that declare themselves eco-friendly, with the aim of protecting consumers.

Here's the list:

  • Sin of the hidden trade-off: declaring the eco-sustainability of a product based only on certain attributes and shifting the focus from what has the greatest environmental impact
  • Sin of no proof: an environmental claim not supported by easily accessible support information or reliable third party certification
  • Sin of vagueness: when the indications on the product are so generic that their meaning can be misunderstood by consumers
  • Sin of worshiping false labels: insert false labels or present a product with counterfeit words or certifications
  • Sin of irrelevance (irrelevance): insert environmental statements that are also true but not important or useful for consumers
  • Sin of lesser of two evils (lesser of evils): an indication that may be true for the specific product category but which risks distracting the consumer from the major environmental effects of the category as a whole
  • Sin of fibbing (falsehood): environmental claims that are simply false.

In Italy, Greenwashing is considered misleading advertising and is controlled by the Authority for Competition and the Market.

Several sentences have already been sentenced for some companies that used Green Washing, such as Snam which was convicted in 1996 for its slogan "Methane is nature" or against San Benedetto, Ferrarelle and Coca Cola.

How to defend yourself from Green Washing

The best way to be sure of the real sustainability of companies are environmental certifications, such as the EMAS and ISO 140001 standards, but also the GRS, or Global Recycled Standard concerning the recycled materials.


In addition, it is also important to verify the the sustainability of companies by looking for information within the company itself, carefully reading its environmental sustainability policies and how they are applied throughout the work process.

An input that can be used to identify companies that practice Greenwashing is to observe their communication.

When the information provided is too rough and approximate or if, on the contrary, they use a very technical, almost incomprehensible language, perhaps using suggestive images or mainly green color palettes, then you should worry: they are probably companies that have done Greenwashing.


Take your time to study the companies where you decide to buy and verify that their work processes are truly eco-sustainable.

We at Rifò, for example, have based our entire production on eco-sustainability and circular economy. On this page you can find our guidelines on sustainable fashion while in our online shop you can see the results of our work.


08, Jul 2021

Sono incantata dal vostro lavoro.

– Valeria Tagliabue
17, May 2024

Sono incantata dal vostro lavoro.

– Valeria Tagliabue
08, Jul 2021

volevo ringraziarVi per questo articolo, lo trovo molto interessante e attuale.
Nella mia tesi di laurea triennale in Sociologia e Ricerca Sociale, mi sono occupata della tematica del consumo nell’epoca contemporanea correlato a dimensioni quali l’iper-consumismo, le diverse forme di consumo alternativo (economia territoriale, il commercio etico) e l’impatto dell’era digitale nelle dinamiche di consumo (e-commerce). Ho trattato pertanto anche la tematica relativa al “greenwashing” come strategia di marketing delle aziende per crearsi una reputazione verde, ossia ecologica (“marketing ecologico di facciata”, Pratesi, 2011).
Colgo l’occasione per segnalarVi un documentario molto interessate appena uscito su Netflix, in merito al greenwashing nell’ambito dell’attività ittica di molte multinazionali e aziende in tutto il mondo.

Vi ringrazio e ancora complimenti per il Vs. lavoro,

– Laura Tasini

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