Greenwashing: why it makes me see red

Thomas Panton shares his thoughts on why greenwashing erodes customer trust, and how it could have real consequences for business.

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Greenwashing is, sadly, a sustainability buzzword you’re likely all too familiar with. But what does it mean in reality?

Greenwashing is a marketing spin by brands, businesses and people that makes you believe that they’re invested in eco-friendly, ethical practices when the reality can be quite the opposite. And, in many cases, greenwashing does work because people often don’t have the time to check whether what they’re being told is the truth. Without realising, the wool has been pulled over their eyes. 

As green claims become more widespread, governments are having to adapt, putting pressure on companies to evidence their actions and come up with real sustainability and ethics policies.

In 2021, the UK Government published its Green Claims Code, after they found 40% of green claims made online could be misleading. The code sets out guidelines for how companies should communicate environmental credentials. And earlier this year the EU proposed their Green Claims Directive, their first detailed set of rules for how companies should market their impact and environmental performance.

Why is greenwashing so harmful?

As the effects of climate change become more widespread, and awareness increases, people are taking the planet into account when they’re choosing what they buy. In fact, 57% of consumers globally are willing to change their shopping habits to reduce their environmental impact. 

Unfortunately, many businesses are trying to take advantage of consumers who are trying to shop more sustainably, by making wild and unsubstantiated claims about their products.

Greenwashing makes it harder to make better choices. New research commissioned by shows that more than 2 in 3 (68%) British shoppers feel angry that brands and retailers’ green claims could be intentionally misleading them into making a purchase.

We need to see governments holding businesses to account – and businesses must step up by making the way they talk about sustainability clearer.

Recent examples of greenwashing


In 2022 a lawsuit was filed against H&M in New York, after a shopper claimed its ‘Conscious Collection’ was falsely claiming green credentials. Earlier in 2022, Quartz published a report that found H&M showed environmental scorecards for its clothing that were misleading and i​​n the most egregious cases, the exact opposite of reality.

The fast fashion giant regularly promotes its clothing recycling schemes, yet these schemes are subject to numerous investigations and exposés. Most recently, a Changing Markets Foundation report found garments travelled thousands of miles before they were burnt or dumped.

Recycling rates are still a drop in the ocean compared to the three billion garments H&M makes every year – the company is still one of the biggest culprits of a fast fashion business model.


When McDonalds switched to paper straws in 2019 they described the new options as ‘eco-friendly’. Moving from fossil-fuel derived plastic to paper may seem like a good thing, but customers found that the new straws weren’t recyclable as they were before, and without any available composting options at McDonald’s restaurants, the new straws would have to go to landfill.

Removing plastic is an important step in reducing our reliance on fossil fuels, preventing ocean waste, and reducing microplastics. But without ways of dealing with alternative forms of waste, better materials don’t always lead to a better impact.


Fossil fuel giant BP rebranded to ‘Beyond Petroleum’ and the company spends millions advertising their low-carbon energy products. Its 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 may talk about how it’s ‘working to make energy cleaner’, more than 96% of BP’s annual spend goes towards oil and gas.

Has BP upped their game since 2019? The short answer is no. In 2022 BP were criticised over their plans to spend billions more on fossil fuels than green energy.

What can your small business do? 4 ways to avoid greenwashing

  1. Buy better. New ethical marketplace recently launched with the mission to guide consumers through the growing mindfield of ‘green’ claims and greenwashing. Their extensive vetting process ensures all brands meet strict requirements before selling on the site, and the site’s set of accreditations make it easy to shop by different values like vegan, cruelty-free, organic and many more.
  2. Avoid generic language. Brands sometimes use terms about sustainability that are intentionally vague and without much substance. If you see phrases like ‘planet-friendly manufacturing’ or ‘consciously crafted’ which have nothing to back them up with, it’s likely they’re greenwashing. Many online shops and marketplaces don’t properly verify green claims, and will often take no responsibility for the products they sell, adding disclaimers like ‘This brand confirms this is vegan’, which makes it very hard to know whether it’s true or not as a shopper.
  3. Look for trusted certifications. There are a whole host of certifications now that aim to help consumers identify the brands that are making real efforts to meet ethical standards. All certifications have pros and cons, but looking for kitemarks like B Corp, GOTS Certified Organic, and Vegan Society can help you find brands that stand up to scrutiny.
  4. Read around. Use consumer advice websites like Good On You, Ethical Consumer and Giki to find out more about the wider issues. also has educational features, blogs and ways to look for eco-friendly swaps in different rooms in your house, so you can take things one step at a time, but without having to go to ten different shopping websites to act on what you’ve learnt.
Thomas Panton – CEO and co-founder of Canopey

Thomas is the CEO and co-founder of recently launched – a new online marketplace for environmentally sustainable and eco-conscious brands, from beauty and skincare, clothing through to homeware and cleaning products. Fighting back against Amazon, it is the UK’s first online retail platform that verifies the green claims of every brand and shows customers C02e, plastic and water savings.

Visit Canopey
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