With corporate greenwashing becoming increasingly sophisticated, the practice can now be separated into several different forms that all businesses should be aware of.

Greenwashing is the act of making unsubstantiated or misleading claims – knowingly or unknowingly – to create the impression that you or your products and services are more environmentally sustainable than they really are.

As sustainability is used more and more as a marketing tool, greenwashing is becoming more common. Media mentions of greenwashing and related terms increased by two thirds over the course of 2022, with less than a quarter of the public now saying they take sustainability claims at face value.

Types of greenwashing

In a report published earlier this year by think tank Planet Tracker, the non-profit identified six types of greenwashing that individuals and organisations need to be wary of:

  • Greencrowding: The belief that an organisation can hide in a crowd to avoid discovery, relying on safety in numbers – for example, corporate sustainability initiatives that move at the speed of the slowest in the group.
  • Greenlighting: When communications and adverts spotlight a green feature of a product in order to draw attention away from environmentally damaging activities elsewhere
  • Greenshifting: When organisations imply that the consumer is at fault, shifting the blame away from themselves
  • Greenlabelling: The practice of describing something as green or sustainable which is proven to be misleading on closer examination
  • Greenrinsing: When an organisation regularly changes its targets before they are achieved
  • Greenhushing: The under-reporting or hiding of sustainability credentials in order to evade scrutiny – a practice that nearly 1 in 4 medium and large companies in Britain have engaged in, according to one recent estimate.

Other terms proposed by experts include ‘net zero washing’, the practice of claiming to have reached net zero or carbon neutral based on offsetting, and ‘greenbotching’, where sustainability initiatives backfire due to poor planning or being overly ambitious.

What are the risks and how do you prevent accidental greenwashing?

While there are unscrupulous companies out there who knowingly engage in greenwashing, the ever-growing complexity of sustainability language also brings the risk that well-intentioned businesses accidentally end up greenwashing without knowing – especially if a well-informed customer or competitor takes issue with a particular detail. 

Whether intentional or not, the impact can be severe. Regulators are beginning to clamp down hard on offenders with takedown orders and fines, but the biggest impacts can come from damaged reputation through negative customer reviews or customer complaints, and direct financial losses from losing customers or investors. 

The best way to avoid accidental greenwashing is to start by checking all claims before using them against the six key principles of the government-backed Green Claims Code. Once you’ve read the code, you can test yourself in the online quiz.

The UK Committees of Advertising Practice has also published detailed guidance on how to make credible green claims in adverts and other communications.


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