Greenwashing and Bluewashing: Decoding Deceptive Marketing Tactics


In an era where environmental and social consciousness influence consumer choices, businesses are keen to showcase their commitment to sustainability and ethical practices. However, this trend has given rise to deceptive marketing practices known as greenwashing and bluewashing. Greenwashing refers to false environmental claims, while bluewashing involves misleading assertions about social responsibility. These tactics undermine genuine efforts and erode consumer trust.

Recognising and understanding these deceptive marketing strategies is crucial for consumers seeking authenticity and accountability from businesses. The prevalence of greenwashing and bluewashing has made consumers sceptical of eco-friendly and socially responsible claims, negatively impacting both consumer trust and the market for genuinely sustainable businesses.

Uncovering the Concept of Greenwashing and Bluewashing

Greenwashing: Also Known as Green Sheen

Greenwashing refers to the practice of conveying false impressions and misleading information about how a company's products or services are environmentally friendly. Companies might use vague terms like "natural" or "sustainable" without any real substance or meaningful context. For example, consider recycled paper packaging wrapped in too much plastic wrap—not exactly the epitome of eco-friendliness. The term was first coined in 1986 by New York environmentalist Jay Westerveld.

Bluewashing: Social Responsibility Deception

Bluewashing refers to issuing false or unverified claims connected to the social aspects of a product. It characterises dishonest marketing that exaggerates a business's dedication to ethical social practices. For instance, a multinational food chain might run a campaign supporting education initiatives in underprivileged communities. However, behind the scenes, the company is criticised for paying low wages to its employees, many of whom struggle to support their families. The issue of bluewashing was first raised at the World Summit on Sustainable Development in 2002.

Impacts on Consumer Trust and Business Dynamics

Greenwashing and bluewashing significantly impact consumer trust and business dynamics.

Diminished Commitment to Sustainability Investment

If consumers become cynical about all eco-friendly claims, businesses may hesitate to invest in genuine sustainability practices. This reduces their competitive edge and hinders overall progress towards a sustainable economy.

Financial Setbacks for Genuine Sustainable Businesses

As consumers grow wary of potentially greenwashed products and lose trust in sustainability claims, they become unwilling to pay a premium for perceived authenticity. Consequently, genuine sustainable businesses face financial setbacks due to the erosion of price premiums.

Skewed Market Dynamics

Bluewashing diverts resources and attention away from genuinely socially conscious companies, making it harder for them to compete fairly. This makes the market less supportive of true social and environmental advancements.

Spotting Greenwashing and Bluewashing

To identify greenwashing and bluewashing, consumers should be vigilant.

Key Indicators of Greenwashing

1. Leaving out Details: Seek specific information regarding a company's environmental policies. Do they make use of recyclable materials? Have they obtained independent sustainability certifications such as the Forest Stewardship Council accreditation for wood products?

2. Misleading Labelling and Lack of Verification: Terms like "eco-friendly" or "sustainable" can mislead consumers without evidence or third-party certifications. Redundant imagery on packaging doesn't guarantee eco-friendliness.

3. Vague Language and Broad Claims: Bluewashing often involves vague language and broad claims about social responsibility, lacking specific details or measurable outcomes. Transparency requires clear evidence and measurable goals.

How to Avoid Falling for Greenwashing and Bluewashing

Avoiding greenwashing and bluewashing requires both businesses and consumers to take specific actions.

Guidelines for Businesses

● Specify Precisely: Businesses should give specific instances of their environmental initiatives and their observable results.

● Authenticity and Transparency: Communicate actions and their effects transparently, and be genuine in efforts to uphold social responsibility.

● Avoid Misleading Images: Ensure advertisements and packaging don't use deceptive imagery.

● Support Assertions with Evidence: Provide evidence to support sustainability claims.

● Concrete Actions: Take tangible actions to address social or humanitarian issues within the organisation and supply chain.

● Promote Openness: Improve emissions control, set measurable objectives, monitor progress, and generate independently verifiable reports.

● Seek Third-Party Verification: Obtain certifications from reputable organisations that assess and verify environmental and social claims.

Consumer Awareness: Cutting Through Greenwashing

Young consumers often favour trending brands like Shein and H&M, but recent reports reveal they might be exaggerating their eco-friendly claims. 

Shein boasted 64% of recycled materials in their textiles, but a study found the actual figure closer to a meagre 1%. Similarly, H&M pledged to use 100% recycled polyester by 2025, but investigations revealed a much smaller portion—33%—of their clothes actually used recycled materials.

Instead of blindly following trends, consumers can become more informed by using resources like:

● Good on You: This platform rates brands based on their impact on people, the planet, and animals. For example, H&M received a rating of 2 out of 5 for all three parameters on Good on You.

● Fashion Transparency Index: This website analyses brands' transparency regarding their supply chains and social and environmental practices. In 2022, Shein was rated very low, between 0-10%, on the Fashion Transparency Index.

Buzzwords like "sustainable" or "eco-friendly" can often overwhelm consumers. The key to getting through greenwashing is awareness, which comes by staying informed through platforms like Good on You and the Fashion Transparency Index.

Countering Greenwashing: Guidelines and Regulations

Government and Industry Actions

The Department of Consumer Affairs (DoCA) in India has taken a proactive step in tackling greenwashing by forming a committee comprised of stakeholders from various sectors. This committee has proposed the Draft Guidelines for the Prevention and Regulation of Greenwashing, 2024, to address this issue. Released for public review and feedback on 20 February 2024, these guidelines aim to combat deceptive environmental claims effectively.

Financial Disclosure Requirements

According to Section 1013D(1)(l) of the Corporations Act, financial product issuers must disclose in the Product Disclosure Statement (PDS) the degree to which labour standards or environmental, social, or ethical factors influence the selection, retention, or divestment of investments within the product's portfolio.


In conclusion, the growth of greenwashing and bluewashing highlights the importance of informed consumers and vigilant regulators in today's market. While businesses may use dishonest strategies to present themselves as socially or ecologically conscious, it is the responsibility of consumers to carefully consider claims and insist on accountability and openness.

By endorsing enterprises that are genuinely sustainable and socially conscious and pushing for robust regulatory frameworks, we can work together to combat dishonest business practices. This collective effort will promote a more moral and sustainable economy for future generations.

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