A Greenwashing Detection Kit

We all heard about the term Greenwashing, right? Or, at least, most of us did. And most of us know about it, but, do we actually know how to spot it in the wild? Check out this article to find out how.

Hi there!

Another even week and another article on my blog! Random information, totally not needed - I've looked it up, this year I've been publishing an article on even week numbers.

Recently, I've read an article on Carl Sagan's Baloney Detection Kit by Maria Popova. This article discusses how to improve your critical thinking, and how to value and grow healthy scepticism towards the information we're surrounded.

In other words - how to detect baloney or BS.

Then I thought - well, this Baloney Detection Kit would be quite useful if we would to apply it to the trending topic of sustainability. And the idea was born - a Greenwashing Detection Kit.

First, I'll start at the beginning - explaining you, the reader, what it is. Then, we'll go to a bit deeper into the topic of how to detect it. In the end, we'll cover some points that can help us fight this and hopefully stop it.

I hope you'll enjoy the read and not actually conclude how I have too many footnotes. While we're at it - what is the correct amount of footnotes?

What it is?

Let's look at the Merriam-Webster dictionary, for the definition of Greenwashing:

the act or practice of making a product, policy, activity, etc. appear to be more environmentally friendly or less environmentally damaging than it really is [1]

So, if companies advertise their products as good for the environment, where in fact they aren't, that is called Greenwashing.

It's basically just a form of lying.[2]

Examples of Greenwashing are unfortunately present throughout various industries. They often happen in oil and fashion industry. Some of the examples, I'll show below.

How to detect it?

In order to detect Greenwashing, as in Baloney detection kit, we can implore a healthy dose of critical thinking.

Fact checking is great, but do we have time to check them for every green product we consider buying. Well, yes, and no. Following are some of the characteristics that can help you detect Greenwashing.

Having a hidden trade-off

The manufacturer claims that the product is green based on a narrow set of attribute. Without actually addressing other critical environmental issues.

For example, using technology to promote energy efficiency without mentioning the hazardous materials that were used in manufacturing. Or - AI can help us in fighting climate change without first focusing on millions of kilowatts and litres of water spent in data centres for its regular operation.[3]

Having no proof

You see a bold claim by the manufacturer about a product, but there is no easily accessible information, or some reliable third-party certification done.

For example, Ryanair claimed in their ads that it is Europe's ... Lowest Emissions Airline and low CO2 emissions. This was checked, and it ended up that those ads were banned in the UK. [4]

Being vague

The claims are vague, not concrete and clearly defined. If something is All-natural, it is not necessarily green.

This characteristic can be applied to the above example from Ryanair. Having no proof and being vague in claims often overlap with one another.

Showing off meaningless labels

Companies create their own sustainability certification and mark their products good for the environment.

For example - introducing scorecards of how each product impacts the environment. And then falsely claim that product A doesn't impact the environment, while it actually does. [5]

Being irrelevant

Claims that are true, but not relevant. For example, many products, such as deodorants, proudly claim that they are CFC (Chlorofluorocarbon) free. This is true, but irrelevant, since CFCs have been banned for more than 30 years.[6]

Being less than two evils

Claiming that a product A or B is in fact damaging to the environment, but not like products C and D.

For example, there was an ad about Land Rover Defender that suggested numerous environmental benefits of using the vehicle. But, the car in fact had an internal combustion engine that burned the fossil fuels.[7]


Claims that are simply false.

fibbing: a trivial or childish lie.[8]

For example, claims by the oil industry that the project(s) they are working on are good for the environment and helping provide a sustainable future.[9]

How to stop it?

Even though sometimes it is rather hard to detect, we can all fight Greenwashing with the following:

  • Check if the claims made about a product are factual and true.
  • If you detect a company is making false claims - report them.
  • Speak up if you see/hear/read something that is considered Greenwashing.


You've reached the end of this article! Before I finish, I want to mention two articles I found quite helpful while writing these lines. The first is from Wikipedia and the second is from University College Cork in Ireland. Make sure to check them out if you want to learn more.

I don't want to finish this article with the call to add your comments, notes, feedback below. Or to subscribe to my blog if you want to learn more about Sustainability in Tech.

I want to end it with an updated quote about publicity we all have heard somewhere or from someone.

There is no such thing as bad publicity. Unless it's obtained by Greenwashing.


  1. https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/greenwashing ↩︎

  2. https://www.nationalgeographic.com/environment/article/what-is-greenwashing-how-to-spot ↩︎

  3. https://query.prod.cms.rt.microsoft.com/cms/api/am/binary/RW1lmju ↩︎

  4. https://www.asa.org.uk/rulings/ryanair-ltd-cas-571089-p1w6b2.html ↩︎

  5. https://www.forbes.com/sites/retailwire/2022/07/13/hm-case-shows-how-greenwashing-breaks-brand-promise/ ↩︎

  6. https://www.unep.org/ozonaction/who-we-are/about-montreal-protocol ↩︎

  7. https://adstandards.ie/complaint/motor-vehicles-2/ ↩︎

  8. https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/fibbing ↩︎

  9. https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2008/aug/13/corporatesocialresponsibility.fossilfuels ↩︎