Green Marketing or Greenwashing: Is it always ethical use the environment as a PR and Marketing tool?

The concept of ‘Green Marketing’ is incredibly interesting, as it is a marketing tool which is becoming increasingly more prevalent in PR and Marketing activities. This tool really captivates consumers’ concerns about the environment and uses it to promote goods and services. I think it is fair to say that environmental concerns are increasingly more important to the consumer- David Attenborough has had a huge role in shifting public behaviour, particularly with regards to plastic pollution in oceans. Green marketing is not an unethical promotional tool if the product is genuinely good for the environment and the organisation is making steps towards reducing their negative impact on the environment. However if an organisation is using ‘green’ aspects to market specific products when the product isn’t fully environmentally friendly, or if one product is environmentally friendly yet the organisation is investing in other activities which are not good for the environment, this causes concern with the ethics of the organisation. Persuading consumers that the organisation or product is environmentally friendly when it is not and when more money is being invested into promoting the environmental reputation of the organisation instead of reducing their environmental impact is known as ‘Greenwashing’. This is a deceitful marketing and PR tool used to target environmentally conscious consumers, which I believe to be fully unethical. This presents further issues with green marketing, as it potentially threatens the authenticity of genuine organisations who are trying to lessen their environmental impact and bring about change in their industry, as it can be seen as a gimmick by some consumers due to past unethical practices.

Primark’s new reusable wrapping paper bag- green marketing or greenwashing? Image courtesy of Secret London.

The idea of looking into greenwashing this week was first inspired by Primark, who announced on Monday they would be releasing paper carrier bags which could be reused into wrapping paper. The bags are designed with a perforated edging which will remove the handles and bottom of the bag, so that the middle can be used as wrapping paper (as pictured above). Whilst this is a unique idea, particularly as carrier bags are the least glamourous element of a shopping trip, and definitely a step in the right direction for an influential organisation like Primark, I do not fully agree with this. It could be argued that Primark’s attempt at marketing themselves as environmentally conscious is at the very least contradictory, but it could be seen as greenwashing. Primark has long been associated with ethical issues, especially in relation to unsafe and exploitative labour and their negative impact on the climate. This stands alone from the ethical issues associated with the fast fashion industry, which I looked at in one of my previous blog posts.

Have you considered the environmental impacts of your online habits? Royalty-free image: Unsplash.

After watching Dispatches programme ‘Is Your Online Habit Killing the Planet?’ which was broadcast on Channel 4 on Monday night, it introduced a different perspective to green marketing and the lack of awareness around the environmental impacts of digital activities, such as scrolling through social media, have on the planet. This is not helped by working from home and using the internet as a learning resource being promoted as innovative and, possibly, even a greener alternative to commuting to a workplace or place of education. This programme illustrated it is evident that clever and often misleading wording is presented to consumers, which further discredits green marketing- for example, would you know the difference between carbon neutral, carbon zero and carbon negative? Amongst other ethical and environmental issues raised in the programme, a fact that staggered me was that the number of YouTube streams of the 2019 song ‘Despacito’ by Luis Fonsi requires the same amount of energy needed to power five countries in Africa for a year. Considering carbon is used in the manufacturing of energy in most cases, it shows that being digital really does bring environmental consequences which we would otherwise be unaware about- which is especially alarming now that there is such a heavy reliance on digital equipment for work and education at the moment due to Covid-19. This really does make me, as a consumer, consider the effect not only my physical actions but my digital actions have on the environment.

This programme really is a must-watch as it is fascinating, and at the same time, quite terrifying to realise the environmental impact of the digital era we are living in. There are so many different industries I could cover when discussing greenwashing- is it ethical for car manufacturers to market their electric cars as good for the environment and a good alternative to petrol and diesel cars meanwhile the electric cars pose environmental risks of their own, including battery disposal and the mining and possible depletion of precious materials for electronic parts? This is all while the car manufacturers continue to produce the ‘bad’ petrol and diesel cars that they are using to market their electric cars as an alternative to. It is definitely a very interesting and complex issue within PR, Marketing and Advertising, especially as we all seem to be more aware and conscious of the ethics of our actions as a consumer.

Thank you for reading!

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