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What is greenwashing?

Greenwashing refers to the misleading practice of making unsubstantiated or exaggerated environmental claims in marketing or advertising efforts. It’s a form of deceptive green marketing that aims to portray a company, product, or service as more environmentally friendly or sustainable than it actually is.

Companies engaged in greenwashing may use vague or general terms, exaggerate the environmental benefits of their products or practices, or selectively highlight certain positive aspects while ignoring or downplaying negative environmental impacts. The goal is to create a perception of being environmentally conscious or sustainable without genuinely adopting sustainable business practices.

Greenwashing can mislead consumers who are seeking genuinely environmentally friendly products or services, leading them to make choices based on false or incomplete information. It undermines the trust between businesses and consumers and can hinder the progress toward genuine environmental sustainability.

To combat greenwashing, organizations like the US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) have established guidelines and regulations to ensure that environmental marketing claims are truthful, substantiated, and not misleading. It’s important for consumers to be critical and discerning when evaluating environmental claims, and to look for credible certifications or independent verification to assess the authenticity of a company’s sustainability practices.

Is it legal to greenwash?

The legality of greenwashing depends on the specific circumstances and jurisdiction. In many countries, including the United States, greenwashing is considered a deceptive marketing practice and is subject to laws and regulations that govern advertising and consumer protection.

It’s important for businesses to ensure that their environmental claims are accurate, substantiated, and not misleading. By providing transparent and credible information about their sustainable practices and considering the true environmental impact of their products or services, companies can maintain legal compliance and build trust with consumers.

How to avoid greenwashing?

To avoid greenwashing and ensure genuine environmental credibility, here are some steps businesses can take:

  1. Accurate and substantiated claims: Ensure that all sustainability claims and environmental benefits are accurate, supported by credible evidence, and aligned with recognized standards or certifications. For example, if claiming the use of sustainable materials, ensure they are certified by reputable organizations like the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC).

  2. Transparency and disclosure: Provide clear and transparent information about the environmental impact of products or services. This includes disclosing any limitations, trade-offs, or areas where improvements can be made.

  3. Specific terminology: Avoid using broad or vague terms like “eco-friendly” or “green” without further explanation or specific details. Instead, focus on providing specific information about the environmental attributes or practices that make a product or service sustainable.

  4. Third-party certifications: Seek certifications or endorsements from credible third-party organizations that validate environmental claims. These certifications can provide additional credibility and assurance to consumers.

  5. Continuous improvement: Implement ongoing monitoring and assessment processes to identify areas for improvement and implement more sustainable practices. Regularly review and update sustainability claims to reflect any changes or advancements made.

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