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More and more companies are trying to capitalise on the focus on sustainability and the environment – including through greenwashing.

Today, there is a growing group of conscious consumers who prefer sustainable goods and services. At global level, consumer responses to climate change are not being ignored by companies, but unfortunately, in many cases, there is no real commitment behind the green communication. Such misleading practices are referred to in the literature as greenwashing.

Despite the fact that the phenomenon is now increasingly discussed in forums, it is not a new phenomenon. In the mid-1980s, for example, environmentalists spoke out against Chevron’s oil company advertisement, around which time the term greenwashing was coined by environmentalist Jay Westerveld. At that time, consumers did not have the information to shed light on all things greenwashing, so it was easier for companies to make claims in advertising that were not true.

But today, other things are making things more difficult, and we are seeing more and more sophisticated forms of greenwashing. Companies that want to appear greener to attract consumers often have no verifiable substance behind their claims. This was demonstrated in a 2020 study by the EU Commission, which found that 53% of green claims are vague, misleading or unsubstantiated, and 40% have no evidence to back up the claim.

Greenwashing as a tricky area

Greenwashing is also a tricky area because certain concepts are not well defined (e.g. what is “ethical”). The EU is trying to tackle the phenomenon and is working on a solution, but Hungarian legislation also prohibits certain distortions. In addition to consumer protection and competition law, the GVH is also taking action against greenwashing and has published a Green Marketing Guide to provide practical guidance for companies. The Hungarian Advertising Code, which will be renewed in 2023, also has a chapter dedicated to environmental claims, which also shows that there are efforts to eliminate greenwashing.

As consumers, however, we still have our work cut out, as the average consumer cannot be expected to know every label and category and be able to determine whether it is a true reflection of reality. It is important not to be taken in by the buzz words, and to always look at the ingredients of the product and try to think about the journey of the product and its impact on the environment. It is no use a clothing company saying that some of its products are ‘sustainable’ if it is the leading fast fashion brand, which is not sustainable in the best of ways.