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  • Hugo Douglas-Deane

What is 'greenwashing'?

Updated: Dec 5, 2022

You may have heard the term 'greenwashing' recently.

The concept itself is becoming more and more widespread and companies are being called out publicly – and it's even being written into UK law.

A photo of a green wall with light reflecting on it

What is greenwashing?

Put simply, greenwashing is when a business makes itself or its products out to be greener than they actually are.

If a business makes any claim about being sustainable or ethical that misleads, hides or misrepresents the truth they are greenwashing.

– UK Competition and Markets Authority

As the effects of climate change become more noticeable and widespread, we're beginning to see more people really understand the importance of sustainability and take that into account when they shop and go about their day to day lives.

In fact, 57% of consumers globally willing to change their shopping habits to reduce environmental impact. (IBM, 2020)

Naturally, businesses have noticed this, and are responding by trying to convince customers they're sustainable.

Examples of greenwashing


The fast fashion giant promotes its clothing return and recycle scheme while still being one of the biggest culprits of a fast fashion business model.

While it seems like a great step forward, consumer advice platforms like Good On You consider it a drop in the ocean compared to the 3 BILLION garments H&M makes every year.


McDonalds switched to paper straws which they described as ‘eco-friendly’. While this could be seen as a step forward – as moving from fossil-fuel derived plastic to paper is a good start – things weren't quite as they seemed.

The straws weren't recyclable, meaning the straws would have to go to landfill, while the original plastic straws were recyclable.


Despite ASOS calling its circular collection ‘future-proofing fashion’, some of the materials they’ve used are thermoplastics that are very difficult to recycle.

ASOS is currently being investigated by the Competition and Markets Authority for its use of the name 'Responsible Edit':

The criteria used by some of these businesses to decide which products to include in these collections may be lower than customers might reasonably expect from their descriptions and overall presentation – for example, some products may contain as little as 20% recycled fabric

– UK Competition and Markets Authority


Fossil fuel giant BP rebranded to ‘Beyond Petroleum’ and spend millions advertising their low-carbon energy products. Their website boldly states: 'Our purpose is reimagining energy for people and our planet. We want to help the world reach net zero and improve people's lives.'

In 2019 environmental action group ClientEarth pointed out that while BP talk the talk about how they're 'working to make energy cleaner', more than 96% of BP’s annual spend is on oil and gas.

What you can do

At the end of the day, we need to see governments holding businesses to account by legally challenging them.

But there are some things you can do to avoid greenwashing:

  1. Start by buying better to begin with: choose brands that clearly care. brings them all under one roof.

  2. Avoid brands that use terms about sustainability without backing up their claims. Look for a 'Sustainability' policy on their website or ask them directly.

  3. Check for reputable certifications like B Corp, Cradle to Cradle & GOTS Certified Organic.

  4. Use consumer advice websites and ethical brand directories like Good On You, Ethical Consumer and Giki to find out more.

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