When a company purposefully misrepresents the negative environmental impact of its products, we call it “greenwashing.” This form of deception not only constitutes outright lying to customers, but it also poses significant harm to our planet — especially as the practice becomes increasingly prevalent.

Greenwashing has taken off because so many companies know that consumers are growing increasingly concerned about pollution and its impact on our overheating planet. In response to these very real concerns, corporations have become eager to demonstrate to us that by shopping with them, we are supporting a business that looks after our planet with our hard-earned dollars.

The problem is that many companies marketing their products as “clean” and “good for the Earth” are doing little to nothing behind the scenes to make these claims true — they tell these lies to make money, preying on customers’ good intentions and wallets. This also impacts a company’s workforce since, in such a tight labour market, brands are increasingly under pressure to show their employees that their work is about more than a paycheque. Employers must demonstrate that they match the values of their highly mobile employees.

A model example is Vancouver-based Lululemon, the athleisure wear giant that generated $9.6 billion in revenue last year while wrapping itself in its “Be Planet” branding, which exaggerates the impact of its sustainability initiatives and even claims its products are “restorative to the Earth.” And yet, among its bestsellers are yoga pants made of polyester fabric, which is derived from oil and manufactured in factories powered by dirty energy sources like coal and methane gas.

While leveraging a “Be Planet” slogan as part of its image, Lululemon has, according to its own sustainability report, increased its climate pollution by 100 per cent since 2020. That’s right: Lululemon’s emissions have doubled since announcing its “environmentally friendly” marketing campaign.

The company should be made to pay for branding we believe is misleading consumers. This is why we at Stand.earth have filed a legal complaint with Canada’s Competition Bureau, an agency empowered to force companies to eliminate deceptive marketing practices and potentially fine them up to three per cent of annual revenues accrued while using the deceptive ads. For Lululemon, that could equate to hundreds of millions of dollars.

As a company that has marketed itself in the language of wellness and as climate and environmentally friendly for many years, Lululemon may find it challenging to form a new identity. As awareness of its harmful practices grows, it will likely need to abandon its green image and brand or, preferably, make it true.

While Lululemon may be among the most extreme examples of greenwashing, it is not the only corporation peddling this deceptive marketing: A lawsuit was recently brought against JBS, the largest meat producer in the world and a major deforester operating in the Amazon rainforest.

The lawsuit filed by New York State Attorney General Letitia James alleges that, like thousands of companies, JBS has claimed it will reach net-zero pollution by 2040 in order to boost its sales among environmentally conscious consumers, yet the company does not know how much pollution it currently creates, has no concrete plan to reduce it, and is making no progress on reductions.

As we watch greenwashers face legal challenges and massive fines, we will also see companies investing in genuinely sustainable products, writes Todd Paglia #Greenwashing @standearth

In March, KLM Airlines was found guilty of misleading the public by claiming to be in alignment with the Paris Agreement when it was not and had no credible plan to become so. This verdict was reached under existing European Union greenwashing laws — and the EU is set to soon adopt new anti-greenwashing legislation that promises to be among the strongest in the world, a quantum leap forward in strength and specificity.

Greenwashing will undoubtedly be one of the big battles in the coming years. And with each passing day, it looks increasingly like we are in for a market correction regarding companies that lie about the environmental qualities of their products.

As we watch these greenwashers face legal challenges and massive fines, we will also see companies investing in genuinely sustainable products begin to stand out in the market and finally get the credit — and the customers — they deserve.

Now, that’s a win-win for people who want their values matched by the companies they do business with.

As executive director of Vancouver-based Stand.earth, Todd Paglia has publicly challenged some of the world’s largest corporations to become environmental leaders and is credited with transforming the policies of numerous multibillion-dollar Fortune 500 companies over the past two decades. Connect with Todd Paglia on LinkedIn.

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