31 okt. 2022, 11:50

What is Greenwashing?

What is Greenwashing?

 Greenwashing, you read more and more about it and see it more and more in the media, but what is greenwashing and how do you recognize it? In this blog you will discover exactly what greenwashing is and how to recognize it. By looking at examples, you will gain insight into how companies practice greenwashing. You will also learn how organizations such as Fossielvrij NL fight greenwashing and what role the Autoriteit Financiële Markten (AFM) plays in providing guidelines to verify sustainability claims. It further discusses how to recognize greenwashing in investing and what steps you can take to make transparent and sustainable investment decisions.

What is greenwashing?

Greenwashing means that a company falsely claims that it is more environmentally friendly than it actually is. Greenwashing occurs in small and large companies, but the impact is the same. It undermines customer confidence in sustainability and enables negative environmental impacts from a company. Sometimes it's conscious, sometimes unconscious, but it's still greenwashing. It is a harmful distraction that undermines real progress and leaves honest companies behind.

Greenwashing, unfortunately, is everywhere. It can be an unsustainable clothing brand that sets up a 'conscious' line. It is the company that sells oil but advertises with beautifully filmed nature. It can be a proud social media post about what a company has contributed to a better world, but then not share in what further negative way they contribute to the planet. They are unsubstantiated and misleading claims for consumers, as they create false associations between the brand and nature.

What you can do to avoid falling for the misleading claim is to look into what and where you are buying something. Look beyond the green logo or the beautiful texts that say how sustainable something is. Words like "conscious", "dedicated", "environmentally friendly" or "green" look great but are difficult to substantiate with facts. Look for more specific claims such as: made from 90% recycled material. If claims are made, look at how a company actually lives up to them. Check whether the product is explained and/or visit the website.

Fossil-Free NL fights against greenwashing

Fortunately, we don't have to figure it all out ourselves. For example, there are online armies of fact-checkers who have already done the work for you. Like Good on You en re/make. But there are also organizations that battle against large companies. For example, you have Fossielvrij NL. They are tackling the climate crisis by organizing a strong, locally rooted citizen movement that breaks the power of coal, oil and gas companies. They ensure that public institutions - such as pension funds, museums and schools - sever their ties with fossil companies. Fossielvrij NL is a small, powerful organization with committed people. With a team of four employees and six board members, they support the Fossil Free movement in the Netherlands.

For example, Fossiel Free has managed to get the civil servant and teacher pension fund ABP to stop investing in fossil companies in 7 years of campaigning. Fossielvrij has also filed a lawsuit against KLM. It's about KLM's Fly Responsibly campaign. In it, KLM says it is creating 'a more sustainable future', which, according to Fossil Free, can be disputed. According to Fossielvrij, KLM must stop misleading advertising about sustainable flying. In May, Fossil Free KLM warned at the shareholders' meeting in Paris that they would file a lawsuit if they did not stop their misleading advertising. On July 6, 2022, they submitted the writ of summons to the Amsterdam court. Fossil-free demands that KLM stop with these advertisements. Instead, KLM should tell the honest story about the climate-disrupting consequences of flying and the need to downsize aviation.

AFM's guidelines for sustainability claims

With the rise of greenwashing, there is a growing need for stricter rules and guidelines to combat these misleading practices. The Autoriteit Financiële Markten (AFM) "Sustainability Claims Guideline" provides concrete guidance on how to apply these rules effectively, with the aim of bringing more transparency to sustainability claims and strengthening consumer and investor confidence.

The guidance establishes three overarching principles:

  • Sustainability claims must be "accurate, representative and current.
  • Sustainability claims must be "concrete and well-substantiated.
  • Sustainability claims must be "understandable, appropriate and findable.

Adherence to these guidelines presents strategic opportunities for organizations in a market where sustainability is increasingly important. It requires a review of marketing strategies and an in-depth evaluation of actual sustainable practices and initiatives. By making honest claims, organizations can gain the trust of conscious consumers and investors, and differentiate themselves from greenwashers.

The AFM's new guidance ensures that companies remain honest and transparent in their claims, offering consumers clarity and authenticity. It is now up to companies to embrace this standard and truly contribute to a more sustainable future.

What does Greenjobs.nl do to fulfill their sustainability claims?

But what about Greenjobs.nl and what are we doing to fulfill our sustainability claims? First of all, Greenjobs.nl is against greenwashing and do not want organizations to use our platform to appear better than they actually are. That is why Greenjobs.nl checks every vacancy that is posted to see whether the companies that want to place vacancies on our platform really belong on our sustainable job bank. Greenjobs.nl is fully owned and therefore we have no investors behind us, who are not sustainable. Greenjobs.nl is also a B Corp, which means that we operate transparently with an eye for employees, social aspects and the environment. You don't just get a B Corp certification, you go through an assessment that you have to go through every 3 years. The goal as a B Corp is to actually become a force for good and it is being monitored to see if that is really the case. In short, Greenjobs.nl is transparent, pays attention to their users and try to inform people about what greenwashing is and how you can pay attention to it.

Tips for podcasts about Greenwashing

B Corp's 'Forces for Good' podcast series, which tells the story of the change of economic systems through the lens of the B Corp movement, has a separate episode on greenwashing. 'How can Business Combat Greenwashing' tells you more about greenwashing and how to recognize it and elaborates on this blog. A must listen!

At the end of the day, we are all consumers. So be critical of sustainability claims in advertisements, labels or packaging and continue to listen to critical voices. Ask yourself if you can do more or better, but don't forget to pat yourself on the back every now and then for everything you already do.

Examples of companies that have done greenwashing

1.Royal Dutch Shell
Shell has had to conduct various lawsuits in the Netherlands about greenwashing. The gas and oil company has repeatedly launched campaigns and interviews describing themselves as committed to reducing carbon emissions and helping the world fight global warming and the transition to renewable energy. However, several reports indicate that Shell has continued to explore new opportunities for oil and gas production. And it has spent only 1% of its long-term investments in low-carbon renewables.


Automaker Volkswagen was caught in 2015 falsifying the emissions reports on several lines of its diesel vehicles. This led to several lawsuits and billions in fines. Keen to capitalize on the growing pool of consumers interested in affordable, low-carbon transportation, the German manufacturer branded its new line of diesel vehicles as one of the most environmentally friendly options available, and it supposedly had the data to prove it.

For many years, the company's vehicles have been regarded as the lowest-emission vehicles on the internal combustion engine market. Until the US Environmental Protection Agency realized that the cars produced up to 40 times more emission than advertised. Volkswagen denied falsifying its data and misleading the public, saying it misunderstood the testing requirements.

3. McDonald's

In 2019, the fast food giant launched a campaign to reduce the amount of single-use plastic in its stores. The main focus was to replace all plastic straws with recyclable paper alternatives. The campaign was hugely successful in portraying McDonald's as a key stakeholder in reducing plastic waste and embracing sustainable solutions. However, the new paper straws are not recyclable. This has led to public backlash against the campaign, but McDonald's continues with the campaign.

Read more examples of companies that have done greenwashing: Top 10 Greenwashing Company examples 2022.

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