Greenwashing: Sustainability or Profitability?: Chapter 3: Effects of Greenwashing on The Conscious Consumer and Sustainable Marketing, and Possible Ways of Its Cessation

In this chapter I will analyse the impact of greenwash on the conscious purchaser and sustainable marketing. I will then suggest possible ways of countering the effects of deceptive green advertising, where the environmentally aware consumer, as well as the manufacturer and the retailer take responsibility for their contribution to the unsustainable lifecycle of fashion and textiles products.

Effects of greenwashing on the consumer

Brands commonly undertake greenwash to convince consumers of the company’s environmental consciousness in order to improve their green images and increase positive word of mouth. (Chen, Lin and Chang 2013: 2412) Albeit profitable for companies, this approach could be wasteful in terms of purchaser time, effort, and finances. In reality, guilt-free shoppers are paying more for products of poorer quality than expected, thereby finding their consumer mission of safeguarding the environment hindered and their product values betrayed. Subsequently as an unconscious, yet prominent participant in the process of greenwashing, the consumer is also a main bearer of its consequences. Although effective in informing the broad audience of current ecological issues and encouraging cautious consumption, green advertising could have the opposite effect on environmentally aware shoppers, undermining their trust in the act of sustainable branding.

Resulting from overabundance of products and unclear information, green advertising, especially when poorly grounded, creates consumer confusion within the purchasing attempts to distinguish between truly sustainable firms and the ones exploiting sustainable development trends (Parguel, Benoit-Moreau and Larceneux 2011:15).

Often faced with the contradicting stimuli about a brand’s performance and its advertising, consumers react to such opposition with scepticism (Nyilasy, Gangadharbatla and Paladino 2013: 696). Therefore, misleading messages conveyed through advertisement are likely to dissuade purchasers from initiating green shopping behaviours and show negative results in green trust.

Effects of greenwashing on sustainable marketing

The very existence of consumer scepticism has been proven to have a negative influence on firm credibility along with perceived company performance. (Nyilasy, Gangadharbatla and Paladino 2013: 694) Nevertheless, the artificially raised competitive pressure from spurious sustainability claims distracts the consumer from choosing products that offer accurate environmental benefits, thereby obstructing the diffusion of authentic green products in the market. Hence, greenwash is being viewed as an obstacle to green marketing development (Chen, Lin and Chang 2012:491), imposing a threat on small brands with a minimal environmental impact and their values.

Advertising, a main approach in self-promotion, drives $7 trillion worth of spending decisions annually (Christians, Fackler, Richardson, Kreshel and Woods 2016:157). Even more effective than general promotion, however, green advertising appears to elicit a favourable response from customers with regard to both attitudes and behaviour. This is why companies spend large amounts of capital on green advertising and CSR initiatives, which could potentially increase advantageous brand attitudes and purchase intentions (Forbes 2012). In other words, advertising is capable of affecting a client’s image of the firm without them having to change their practice. Due to a lack of capital and brand honesty, however, small firms can hardly oppose large corporations with abundant financial power.

Greenwashing undermines the entire movement of green marketing, represented by authentic sustainable businesses, altering the consumer brand attitude and purchase intent. It has ethical, but ultimately business and financial consequences and damages the market by creating consumer suspicion of green products.

Ways to avoid greenwahshing

The general practice of greenwashing and the consequences of deceptive advertising are proof that it is virtually impossible for the fashion industry to be genuinely sustainable, as it is defined by a cycle of style change, in which the outdated is rapidly substituted for the latest (Gordon and Hill 2015:15). Since there is no legislative regulation of greenwashing the responsibility for its prevention should be recognised by manufacturers and retailers, as well as conscious consumers.

The realisation that purchasers are in control of their own consumer decisions is of great importance, as it results in critical thinking, questioning invalid environmental claims and demand for supporting evidence. The latter could be found on standardized eco-labels, perceived as an effective way of differentiating truly sustainable products and certified by qualified and independent third-parties. Two of those, for instance, are EcoLogo (See Figure 9) and Green Seal, which establish environmental standards openly and transparently (Terrachoice 2010) and assist the affirmation of an accurate consumer intelligence, which is critical under all scenarios. (Nyilasy, Gangadharbatla and Paladino 2013: 703)

A further enhancement of the power of civil society to challenge greenwashing is the expansion of social media (Lyon and Montgomery 2015:239), which could challenge firms’ deceptive advertisement campaigns and allow consumers to openly share their experience with a potentially green product. It could also enable them to use their purchasing power to demand improvement of sustainable quality and to communicate the main message of sustainable consumption: ‘Buy less, choose well, make it last.’ (Dame Vivienne Westwood)

Manufacturers, on the other hand, are responsible for accomplishing the goals stated in their environmental claims, effectively conducting low-impact processes and resource fabrication techniques, as well as competing with their opponents in delivering better sustainable value as opposed to the number of green statements. In sustainable clothing production they are required to pursue continual improvement of their environmental footprint and be trustworthy, transparent and informative, allowing the consumer to make intelligent purchasing decisions.

Adoption of transparency is also a responsibility of fashion retailers, who are in authority of minimizing the consumption of resources, improving distribution systems and aiming for realistic and achievable short-term sustainability modifications, rather than focusing on larger, seemingly unfeasible missions. Further plausible improvement with regard to fashion retail could be accomplished in eco-labelling, which is rendered useless unless consumers are certain which eco-labels are trustworthy and which are not. As stated above, EcoLogo

Figure 9. Global Eco Labelling. 2018.Green Seal Logo

and Green Seal are publically standardized third-party certifiers, which conscious consumers, intelligently practicing their purchasing power, would recognize and approve. Most important, however, appear to be the enhanced design values and genuine environmental ethics that a company adopts, which are crucial when creating a ‘longer lasting relationship with clothes’ (Black 2008:195). When this approach is rewarded in the marketplace it motivates all retailers to progress, using competition and free enterprise to drive economy towards sustainability.

Conclusion: Greenwash has a negative effect on consumer trust and sustainable brands, as well as the green market as a whole. In order to progress and develop a trustworthy, ethical chain, corresponding to customers’ values, responsibility should be broadly recognised by all of the participants in clothing consumption, namely the manufacturers, retailers, and shoppers themselves.


As a growing occurrence sustainability awareness among shoppers has motivated fashion and textiles brands to compete on the green image they generate among buyers and utilize it as a major factor for increased positive customer attitudes and rising purchase intentions. This research has helped me identify the participants in greenwashing along with examples of deceptive advertising in companies with a sustainable brand image. I have further discovered potential ways for firms and conscious purchasers to avoid greenwashing practices.

Conclusive to the research it becomes clear that as a result of the growing demand for sustainable products, brand competition increases. However, taking into account the short amount of time on disposal, a number of invalid and deceptive claims occur in order for companies to be profitable and congruent with the market.

Examples of greenwashing are to be found in some of the most prominent sustainable brands, which appeal to the conscious consumer with unsubstantial claims and deceptive advertising without factually changing their manufacture and retail practices.

Greenwash as a means to gaining profit has a broadly negative effect on the sustainable market and purchasers’ trust in it. This results in consumer skepticism and undermines the efforts of truly sustainable brands. In order for an ethical and trustworthy market to be developed manufacturers, retailers, as well as shoppers are to take responsibility for their buying, production and manufacturing practices.

Further areas of potential investigation on the subject of greenwashing include a wider variety of examples of deceptive advertising in fashion and textiles, along with practices of firms, specializing in facilitating greenwashing. This would include the lack of legislative regulations and cases of companies that support these practices.



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