Climate Change: The new Green lexicon and what is meant…

by | 14 May 2024 | Environment, Sherwood

With the increased emphasis on reducing emissions and aiming for net zero status, a new language has evolved. Sustainable growth and meaningful environmental policies are essential for businesses. You have heard of greenwashing, but there’s a whole host of ways companies are making dubious claims about their sustainability credentials, ranging from slight exaggerations to downright fake news.

More and more firms are being called out for greenwashing, a word used to describe unsubstantiated claims which are designed to create the illusion of sustainability. Greenwashing is sometimes called green sheen, and is a form of advertising or marketing spin in which green PR and green marketing are deceptively used to persuade the public that an organisation’s products, aims and policies are environmentally friendly.

We are living in the golden age of greenwash. Companies are finding numerous ways to pull the wool over buyers’ eyes, creating distinct types of green washing to look out for, such as:

Green crowding

Built on the belief that you can hide in a crowd to avoid discovery, relying on safety in numbers. If sustainability policies are being developed, it is likely that the group will move at the speed of the slowest.

Green labelling

The International Organisation for Standardisation (ISO) defines green labels as symbols printed on products or their packaging to advertise environmental quality or characteristics. However, it has also been used for a practice where marketers call something green or sustainable, but closer examination reveals this to be misleading.

Green lighting

Occurs when company communications spotlight a particularly green feature of its operations or products, however small, to draw attention away from environmentally damaging activities being conducted elsewhere.

Green shifting

When companies imply that the consumer is at fault and shift the blame on to them. Companies might shift the responsibility onto consumers to be more sustainable and reduce their own individual footprint, rather than having to take meaningful action at the corporate or brand level.

Green rinsing

Refers to a company regularly changing its ESG targets before they are achieved. Environmental, social and governance (ESG) is a framework used to assess an organisation’s business practices and performances on various sustainability and ethical issues. It also provides a way to measure business risks and opportunities in those areas.

Green hushing

Refers to under-reporting or hiding of sustainability credentials to evade investor scrutiny, a term for the growing number of firms who are unwilling to publicise their net zero targets. Xavier Font, Professor of Sustainability Marketing at the University of Surrey, defines it as: “The deliberate downplaying of your sustainability practices for fear that it will make your company look less competent, or have a negative consequence for you.”

Green wishing

The main difference between green wishing and greenwashing is that green wishing is a company expressing the desire to become greener – whereas greenwashing is a less genuine, more misleading practice that makes consumers think a company is more environmentally responsible than they actually are.

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Pauline Meechan
Sherwood Forest Friends of the Earth