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Greenwashing is when companies made deceptive claims to exaggerate how environmentally friendly a product is. Alamy Stock Photo

'Greenwashing' makes it difficult for public to identify genuine eco-friendly products, says study

The research found that consumers become more sceptical of all environmental claims when educated on greenwashing.

DECEPTIVE CLAIMS THAT exaggerate how environmentally friendly a product is, known as ‘greenwashing’, have made it difficult for consumers to identify genuine green products.

That’s according to new research by the Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI) and the Enviornmental Protection Agency (EPA), that also found that consumers who are informed about greenwashing are better at identifying it.

The experiment by the research bodies echoes previous calls from the EU for better education around the environmental durability of products and suggests that companies that greenwash their products are spoiling the competition for real eco-friendly brands.

Previous analysis from the European Commission found that more than half of Enviornmental claims made in advertising in the EU were misleading, vague or unfounded. 

The ESRI gathered 2,000 randomly-selected adults who judged a series of adverts that features real and greenwashed environmental claims and then completed a quiz on the marketing they had seen.

Half of the group recieved a crash course on the tactics of greenwashing before the exercise while the other half were not given any education around false environmental claims.

The results showed that those who were trained to spot greenwashing were more confident in their ability to do so when compared to the untrained group. The trained group also had a heightened scepticism over all claims, even when they were genuine.

Legislation, adopted by MEPs in January, aimed to put a stop to greenwashing in advertising. The new rules will ban products labelled ‘environmentally friendly’, ‘natural’,  ‘climate-neutral’, ‘eco’ or ‘biodegradable’ without concrete evidence.

Claims based solely on the use of carbon off-setting will also be banned. 

This week’s experiment revealed that consumers are less willing to purchase from brands they suspected of greenwashing, even if the environmental claim made by the brand was genuine, the ESRI said.

The trained group also said they would be more willing to engage in climate action, including using climate policies to inform their voting behaviour, such as the new EU rules.

Dr Shane Timmons, a researcher at the ESRI’s Behavioural Research Unit suggested that greenwashing is also impacting commercial competition.

“Greenwashing makes it difficult for genuinely sustainable businesses to compete against ones that mislead consumers about their environmental performance.”

Timmons suggested that if consumers were more educated about the false claims, greenwashing would be sooner eradicated. He called for the EU directives to be transposed, quickly, into Irish law.

Dr Eimear Cotter, Director of the EPA’s Office of Evidence and Assessment said greenwashing not only “undermines efforts to support consumers to make environmentally-friendly choices” but also causes confusion around real and genuine claims.

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