In this report, we take a deep dive into companies accused of greenwashing. With the rise of global environmental awareness and sustainability movements, companies are under increasing pressure to position themselves as eco-friendly and environmentally responsible. However, this has led to the much reported phenomenon known as greenwashing, where companies make misleading or unsubstantiated claims about their products, services, or environmental impact to appeal to conscious consumers.
Greenwashing can occur at different levels, from product labelling and ingredient claims to advertising campaigns and environmental impact reporting. In this article, we will take a deep dive into the concept of greenwashing, share various greenwashing examples and the different forms it can take, and how it affects consumers and the environment.
We will also delve into several high-profile companies accused of greenwashing, examine the nature of the allegations and the repercussions the companies faced. Through these greenwashing examples, we hope to provide insight into the importance of transparency and accountability in corporate sustainability and obtain insight into how these companies respond to greenwashing allegations made against them.
Different forms of greenwashing and tactics
Product labelling and ingredients – Harmful or toxic ingredients that damage the environment, but are not indicated as such. This also includes vague terminology on labels such as “eco-conscious,” “clean,” or “100% sustainable”, but doesn’t actually mean anything in terms of the product’s manufacturing processes or adherence to environmental policies. Green products from a polluting company can indicate that a company is producing their environmentally friendly products in a way that causes a lot of pollution.
Advertisement campaigns – Posters, billboards, TV and radio adverts that contain misleading messages about the environmental sustainability of a company or product. Companies that make environmental claims about themselves in advertisements without providing evidence to support them. This form can also include companies highlighting their environmental benefits while ignoring or downplaying other significant environmental impacts.
Lack-of or False environmental impact reporting – Lack of transparency surrounding the environmental impact of a company and reporting metrics that make the company seem more environmentally friendly than reality. This most commonly includes under-reporting carbon emissions or failing to take responsibility for their entire carbon footprint, including supply chain and indirect emissions.
Companies accused of greenwashing
Nestle has been accused of greenwashing in the past because of its marketing claims about the environmental sustainability of its products. This has particularly been surrounding its use of palm oil which is linked to deforestation and habitat destruction for endangered species. The company has also been accused of greenwashing for controversial marketing campaigns including one that portrayed bottled water as a more environmentally friendly alternative to tap water, even though bottled water has a significantly larger carbon footprint (Hills 2008). Further, Nestle has been criticised for its environmental impact in relation to its water use and packaging and despite its sustainability claims, appears to have made slow progress in reducing its environmental impact in these areas.
In 2019, Nestlé furthermore faces a class action lawsuit that claims they have fraudulently labelled its chocolate products as sustainably sourced despite child labour in supply chains and no environmental controls (Rizzi 2019). The case is still ongoing, and claims that there could be child-labour involved in Nestlé’s cacao sourcing process and that there are on policies in place that support their “sustainably sourced” claims. Nestlé’s attempts by Nestlé to exit the lawsuit has also been dismissed by a federal court.
An Investigation by the New Climate Institute has indicated that Nestle’s net zero goals are of low integrity and most likely unachievable (Askew 2022). The report indicates that Nestle is currently not on track to achieve their Net-Zero goals without the purchasing of carbon credits and not reducing their actual emissions.
Nestle’s response & mitigation efforts
In response to the claims of greenwashing and concerns about its environmental impact, Nestle has made several commitments and taken steps to mitigate these issues.
Regarding its use of palm oil, Nestle has committed to sourcing only sustainable palm oil and has established a Responsible Sourcing Standard for Palm Oil. The company has also committed to zero deforestation in its supply chain and to protecting and restoring high conservation value areas and peatlands.
Nestle has also made efforts to reduce its carbon footprint and water use. The company has set targets to reduce greenhouse gas emissions across its entire value chain and has committed to using 100% renewable electricity in its operations by 2025. Nestle has also set targets to reduce water usage and improve water management in its factories and has implemented water stewardship programs in several countries.
In response to the recent investigation by the New Climate Institute, Nestle has disputed the findings and maintained that it has exceeded the goals and targets set by the Science Based Targets initiative (SBTi) for reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Nestle has also stated that it is committed to achieving net zero emissions by 2050 and has set interim targets to reduce emissions in the coming years.
Nestlé Philippines has partnered with CEMEX to excavate landfill sites in Cebu and convert plastic waste into fuel for cement production, as part of the company’s commitment to recycle all its plastic packaging by 2025 (Nestle 2020). This initiative aims to reduce the amount of plastic waste in landfills and lower the use of fossil fuels in cement manufacturing. Moreover, Nestlé has announced achieving ‘plastic neutrality‘ in the Philippines, indicating that the company has collected and disposed of more plastic waste than it has generated (Nestle 2020). Similarly, Nestlé Costa Rica also reached ‘plastic neutrality‘ in 2020, demonstrating the company’s efforts to address the issue of plastic waste (Geocycle 2021).
Overall, while Nestle has made some progress in addressing its environmental impact, it is clear that there is still more work to be done. Critics argue that the company’s commitments and actions do not go far enough, and there is ongoing scrutiny and debate about the company’s environmental practices.
Unilever has been called out for greenwashing for using phrases like “sustainable” and “green” without providing any substantial proof or for using greenwashing labels and certifications without meeting the standards. Additionally, the company has been criticised for its use of palm oil, which has been linked to deforestation, and for not being transparent in its sourcing and production practices. More specifically, their 2020 TV ad campaign “tough on stains, kinder to the planet” was banned by the ASA (UK Advertising Standards Authority) because the campaign did not explain how the full life-cycle of the product and its packaging were more environmentally sustainable than its predecessor (George 2022).
In 2022, the ASA banned an advert by Unilever’s brand, Persil, for misleading consumers by suggesting the product’s packaging was environmentally friendly, with an advertisement claiming that it is “Kinder to our planet”, with no evidence to support this claim (Timmins 2022).
Unilever has also made a commitment to making all of their plastic packaging reusable, recyclable or compostable by 2025, but in 2019, a report by Greenpeace accused Unilever, along with other major consumer goods companies, of being among the top contributors to plastic pollution in the world’s oceans (Greenpeace, n.d.). The report stated that Unilever was responsible for producing 700,000 tonnes of plastic packaging each year. In response, Unilever pledged to reduce its use of new plastic by 50% by 2025 and to collect and process more plastic packaging than it sells.
Unilever’s response and mitigation efforts
Unilever has taken several steps to address the greenwashing claims against them. They have established several sustainability goals, such as achieving net-zero emissions from their products by 2039.
They have also been working on increasing transparency in their supply chains, including their palm oil sourcing. In 2019, they launched a new initiative called “Tracing the Journey of our Agricultural Products,” which aims to increase transparency and sustainability in their agricultural supply chains.
In response to being accused of greenwashing, Unilever has acknowledged the importance of transparency and accuracy in their sustainability claims. They have stated that they are committed to making sure that their claims are backed up by data and are verifiable. They have also emphasised the need for industry-wide standards and regulations to prevent greenwashing and ensure that sustainability claims are accurate and transparent.
Unilever has also pledged that it will collect more plastic packaging than it sells. What this actually meant was demonstrated by a project in Indonesia. Bantar Gebang, an enormous mountain of waste close to Jakarta, will be excavated and the RDF used by Solusi Bangun Indonesia’s cement kilns in West Java. The contract was signed at the end of 2020. This project will generate an estimated 1,000 tonnes of RDF, 80% to 90% of which is plastic, every month. According to Reuters, Unilever is financing a second RDF project for the cement industry in Java (BROCK et al. 2021). There are however concerns about the amount of carbon emissions that will be released as a result of these projects.
According to their 2020 Sustainable Living Report, they reported that they have achieved 50% of their target to make all their plastic packaging reusable, recyclable or compostable by 2025. They also reported a 1.5% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions from their operations in 2020, compared to their 2019 baseline. Additionally, Unilever has been recognized by several sustainability rankings and indices for their efforts towards sustainability, including being named as the top-ranking food and beverage company in the Dow Jones Sustainability Index for the 21st year in a row.
Coca-Cola has been accused of greenwashing using misleading claims about the environmental sustainability of its products, in particular the biodegradability of its products that are not supported by scientific evidence. Coca-Cola has been condemned for its environmental impact in relation to its water use, packaging and transportation. The company has also been accused of not doing enough to reduce its carbon footprint and despite being a sponsor of COP27 it has emerged that the drinks giant has increased its use of virgin plastics in recent years (Financial Times, n.d.).
Coca-Cola has furthermore been exposed for funding health researchers to show research that downplay the link between consumption of high content sugar beverages and obesity and heart diseases (Rice and Galbraith 2008). In 2013 a donation of $1.5 million helped to create the NPO Global Energy Balance Network (GEBN) which was led by researchers from several universities. In one of their findings they proclaim that the media has wrongly emphasised overeating and an unhealthy diet as the cause of obesity and claimed that lack of exercise was the key driving factor. In the case that a corporation funds a research project the results frequently side with what favours the funder, in this case Coca-Cola.
A class-action lawsuit filed in 2017 by the nonprofit organisation Praxis Project, which accused Coca-Cola and the American Beverage Association of making deceptive statements about the health risks of consuming sugar sweetened beverages (Lieu 2021).
In 2009 Coca-Cola debuted the PlantBottle in Denmark, but a local environmental group called Forests of the World filed a complaint against the company and stated it was misleading consumers about the environmental impact of plastic bottles and the company’s efforts to address the issue (Ettinger 2013). They accused Coca-Cola of misleading consumers about the environmental impact of its plastic bottles by using marketing tactics that suggest they are eco-friendly or sustainable, despite the fact that plastic waste is a major environmental problem. For example, the company has used the phrase “plant-based” to describe its plastic bottles, suggesting that they are made entirely from plant materials and are therefore biodegradable. The lawsuit is currently still ongoing.
Coca-Cola’s response and mitigation efforts
In response to these allegations, Coca-Cola has made a commitment to boosting its sustainability efforts by reducing its use of plastic packaging and increasing the amount of renewable energy it uses in its operations. The complaint by Praxis Project also was ultimately withdrawn after Coca-Cola had stopped making statements about how the link between sweetened beverages and obesity and heart disease are contested.
Coca-Cola has however recently been accused of only reporting partial scope 3 emissions in their annual ESG report while they have access to total scope 3 emissions as indicated by CDP Climate Change Response, thus intentionally lowering their transparency and potentially misleading stakeholders (The Coca-Cola Company 2022). This creates scepticism surrounding Coca-Cola’s intentions to commit to lowering their overall environmental impact.
Walmart has been slammed for greenwashing surrounding its alleged commitment to environmental sustainability, while at the same time continuing to sell products that have a significant environmental impact. Walmart has reportedly made false or misleading claims about the environmental benefits of its products, such as by exaggerating the amount of recycled content in its packaging or by making claims about its commitment to reducing greenhouse gas emissions that are not supported by its actions.
Additionally, Walmart has been reprehended for its environmental impact in relation to its sourcing of products, transportation and waste management and that they have not done enough to promote sustainable sourcing of ingredients, or address the environmental impact of meat production and waste management.
The FTC fined Walmart $1 million in 2010 for selling plastic products that were falsely advertised as being biodegradable (Hardcastle 2017). The FTC found that Walmart had made misleading environmental claims about its “biodegradable” plastic bags and containers, which were not able to biodegrade in a landfill or in most other environments. This was considered an example of greenwashing and resulted in the fine.
In addition, Walmart was fined $3 million by the FTC in 2019 for making false claims about the sustainability of its textile products. The FTC alleged that Walmart had misled consumers by labelling certain textile products as “made from recycled materials” or “100% organic cotton” when they were not. This was also considered an example of greenwashing and resulted in the fine (Vedova and Fair 2022).
Walmart’s response and mitigation efforts
To date Walmart’s response to these claims have been to increase the amount of renewable energy it uses in its operations, reducing its greenhouse gas emissions and encouraging suppliers to use sustainable packaging through its Sustainability Hub and Sustainable Packaging Playbook (Hall, n.d.).
Walmart has also set goals to increase their use of renewable energy. They have set a goal to power 50% of its operations with renewable energy by 2025 and are working towards achieving this through the use of solar, wind, and other renewable sources. In 2020, Walmart announced that it had achieved its goal of powering 50% of its operations with renewable energy, and it has set a new goal of reaching 100% renewable energy by 2035.
The company has also committed to reducing its greenhouse gas emissions by 18% by 2025 and has implemented energy-efficient practices and technologies to achieve this goal. Walmart has taken steps to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions, such as by improving the energy efficiency of its stores and trucks. In 2017, Walmart announced that it had achieved a 29% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions from its operations compared to its 2005 baseline, and it has set a new goal to achieve zero emissions by 2040.
3M has come under fire for making misleading claims about the environmental sustainability of its products, such as by exaggerating the amount of recycled content in its packaging or by making claims about the biodegradability of its products that are not supported by scientific evidence. Additionally, 3M has been criticised for its environmental impact in relation to its use of chemicals and waste management as well as not doing enough to address the environmental impact of its products and operations, for example by not properly disposing hazardous waste or not properly informing customers of the potential health risks associated with their products. In response, 3M has made a commitment to take steps to address these concerns, such as by reducing its use of hazardous chemicals and increasing the amount of recycled content in its products.
Despite these claims 3M has faced legal action related to claims of greenwashing in recent years. In 2018, 3M settled a lawsuit with the state of New Jersey over claims that it had sold chemicals without disclosing their potential risks to human health and the environment (State of New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection 2019). As part of the settlement, 3M agreed to pay $1.5 million and to implement measures to ensure the proper handling and disposal of the chemicals.
In 2010, the state of Minnesota sued 3M alleging that the company’s production of chemicals known as perfluorochemicals (PFCs) had damaged drinking water and natural resources in the Twin Cities Metropolitan Area. The case was settled in 2018 for $850 million, with 3M agreeing to pay for the cleanup of the contamination caused by the chemicals (Dunbar 2018).
3M’s response and mitigation efforts
The company has stated that it is continuously working to improve the environmental performance of its products and operations through various initiatives, such as reducing its greenhouse gas emissions, improving waste reduction and management, and increasing the use of sustainable materials.
In response to claims that 3M has made misleading claims about the environmental attributes of its products, the company has said that it is committed to ensuring that all of its marketing and labelling is accurate and substantiated by scientific evidence. 3M has also stated that it is willing to collaborate with stakeholders, including customers, regulators, and NGOs, to improve the environmental sustainability of its products and to address any concerns about their environmental impact.
3M has further taken specific actions to address some of the environmental concerns that have been raised about its operations. For example, they have implemented a zero waste-to-landfill program in some of its facilities, which aims to divert all waste from landfills and incinerators. 3M has also set goals to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions and to increase its use of renewable energy sources.
Johnson & Johnson
Johnson & Johnson has been called out on dubious claims about the amount of recycled content in its packaging and making claims about the biodegradability of its products and their sustainability efforts. While in reality their environmental impact has been called into question in relation to its use of chemicals, palm oil and associated deforestation, waste management and packaging and not properly informing customers of the potential health risks associated with their products (Palm Oil Detectives 2021).
In 2019, a class action lawsuit was also filed against J&J over claims that the company’s baby powder was contaminated with asbestos and that the company had misled consumers about the safety of the product (GIRION 2018). J&J denied the allegations but in 2021 they paid $100 million to settle over 1,000 lawsuits alleging that its talc-based products caused cancer. J&J has been involved in several other similar lawsuits worldwide related to the selling of their No More Tears baby shampoo and baby powder that contained traces of asbestos (Nash 2019).
J&J products such as their spot-cleaning face scrubs have also been accused of containing plastic microbeads, after these were used to replace ground seed kernels or pumice stones (Buranyi 2018). In 2010 Scientists began raising the alarm about potential dangers that these microbeads posed to sea life.
J&J’s Response and mitigation efforts
In turn, Johnson & Johnson has made a commitment to take steps to address these concerns, such as by reducing its use of hazardous chemicals and increasing the amount of recycled content in its products. J&J has also committed to source only sustainable palm oil and joined the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), a multi-stakeholder initiative aimed at promoting the growth and use of sustainable palm oil products.
Regarding cases surrounding their baby powder containing asbestos and marketing their baby shampoo containing carcinogens, they continue to not admit liability and deny that its products are carcinogenic and do not cause cancer.
General Electric (GE) has been accused of greenwashing for several reasons. One reason is that the company has made claims about the environmental benefits of its products that are not supported by facts. For example, in the early 2000s, GE ran an advertising campaign that claimed that its products were “Ecomagination” products, which it defined as “products that will help customers meet pressing environmental challenges.” However, some critics have argued that many of these products were not actually as environmentally friendly as GE claimed.
Another reason that GE has been accused of greenwashing is that the company has been criticised for its overall environmental performance. For example, GE has been criticised for its pollution of the Hudson River in New York, which has been a source of ongoing environmental concern (CBC News 2001).The Hudson River was contaminated with polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) that were discharged into the river by two GE plants located in Hudson Falls and Fort Edward, New York from the 1940s – 1970s. PCBs are toxic chemicals that do not break down easily and can accumulate in the environment and in the bodies of animals and humans.
The company has also been criticised for its role in the production of nuclear weapons, as well as its operations in the oil and gas industry while at the same time trying to position itself as being green and “fully focused on the energy tradition” (Berlin 2023).
GE’s response and mitigation efforts
In response to criticisms of its “Ecomagination” campaign, the company has defended its products as being genuinely environmentally friendly and backed up by rigorous scientific analysis. For example, GE has pointed to its investments in clean energy technologies, such as wind turbines and smart grid systems, as evidence of its commitment to sustainability. These claims can however be overshadowed by the quality of these clean energy technologies.
Regarding its environmental performance more broadly, GE has taken steps to address some of the issues that have been raised by critics. For example, the company has undertaken a massive cleanup effort in the Hudson River, which it has described as one of the largest and most complex environmental remediation projects in history. The cleanup involved dredging the riverbed in a 40-mile stretch of the river between Hudson Falls and Troy, New York. The dredging removed approximately 2.75 million cubic yards of contaminated sediment, which was then transported to a disposal facility in Texas. Critics have argued that the cleanup effort did not go far enough and that it did not address all of the contamination in the river
Additionally, GE has divested from its financial stake in the nuclear weapons industry and pledged not to invest in companies that manufacture or support nuclear weapons.
Despite the claims that GE made regarding a transition to more sustainable practices it has been involved in several law cases. In 2009, GE agreed to a $31 million settlement with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) over allegations that the company had improperly handled and disposed of hazardous waste at its facilities in Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Rhode Island.
The fast food chain has been accused of greenwashing on numerous occasions which has caused it to also be known by the name McGreenwash. In the early 2000s, McDonald’s made claims that its products were “environmentally friendly” and that its packaging was “recyclable”, whereas the packaging materials were not actually recyclable in most locations. It has also been criticised for its use of palm oil, which is a major contributor to deforestation in Southeast Asia and for its large amount of waste generated by packaging materials and food waste. More recently it was blasted for the launch of its Net Zero carbon restaurant which can only be described as a contradiction in terms, especially when the chain has not been transparent about its environmental performance and environmental impact time and time again (Seabrook 2021).
Furthermore despite the claims of the launch of the 1st Net-Zero restaurant McDonald’s has had a complicated past regarding responses to green or environmental claims that they have made in the past, that is starting to look very repetitive.
In 1990, the company was sued by the California attorney general over its claims that its polystyrene packaging was “recyclable” (World Resources Institute 1991). In 1991, McDonald’s settled the lawsuit by agreeing to pay $1 million and to remove the “recyclable” claim from its packaging.
McDonald’s however then faced more criticism in the early 2000s for making claims about the recyclability of its packaging materials (Calendar-UK, n.d.). Specifically, the company claimed that its paper-based packaging was recyclable, when in reality, many local recycling programs were not equipped to handle it. This led to accusations of greenwashing, or making false or exaggerated claims about the environmental benefits of its products or practices.
Then in 2011, McDonald’s was fined $1.8 million by the Brazilian government for violating labour laws and environmental regulations in its supply chain (News24 2011). The company was accused of purchasing beef from suppliers who were responsible for illegal deforestation in the Amazon rainforest, as well as contributing to soil contamination and water pollution through its cattle-raising operations.
McDonalds’ response and mitigation efforts
In response to these cases McDonald’s has set a sustainability goal to source 100% of its coffee, palm oil, and fish from sustainable sources by 2020. They updated this goal and moved it out 2025, as well as working with suppliers to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 36% across the supply chain and recycle 100% of its packaging by 2025 . Currently McDonald’s states that 100% of the palm oil they sourced in 2021 was certified by the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) and 100% of soy sourced in 2021 for the feed of chicken used in their products supported deforestation-free supply chains globally. Given their track record, their responses and new goals are surrounded by some scepticism.
Monsanto, a biotech and agrochemical company, has had a plethora of greenwashing accusations raised against them due to their lack of accountability and transparency around their environmental impact. For example, Monsanto has marketed its genetically modified (GM) crops as a solution to environmental problems such as soil erosion and pesticide use, however, critics have argued that GM crops have led to increased pesticide use and have not adequately addressed issues of soil erosion. Another reason that Monsanto has been accused of greenwashing is that the company has been criticised for its overall environmental performance. For example, Monsanto has been criticised for producing pesticides that are toxic to non-target species and for promoting monoculture farming, which reduces biodiversity. Additionally, the company has been sued for contamination of water and soil with PCBs which is a toxic chemical. The article Merchants of Poison shows how pesticide giant Monsanto (purchased by Bayer in 2019) spent millions on deceptive communications strategies over decades to promote the narrative that its bestselling herbicide glyphosate, better known as Roundup, is safe – as safe as table salt, as Monsanto once claimed (Malkan and Williams, n.d.).
Monsanto’s response and mitigation efforts
Monsanto has disputed many of the claims made against it regarding greenwashing and its environmental impact. However, the company has also taken steps to address some of the concerns that have been raised. For example, in 2008, the company launched a sustainability initiative called “The Monsanto Pledge”, which outlined the company’s commitment to sustainable agriculture and environmental responsibility. The pledge included goals such as reducing greenhouse gas emissions, improving water quality, and increasing biodiversity on farms.
In addition, Monsanto has been involved in a number of partnerships and initiatives aimed at promoting sustainable agriculture and addressing environmental concerns. For example, the company is a member of the World Business Council for Sustainable Development and has partnered with organisations such as the Conservation Technology Information Center and the Soil Health Partnership.
However, despite these efforts, Monsanto continues to face criticism and legal action related to its environmental impact and greenwashing claims. In 2018, a jury awarded $289 million to a man who claimed that exposure to Roundup, Monsanto’s best selling herbicide, caused his cancer (Levin and Greenfield 2018). The verdict was later reduced, but Monsanto/Bayer has faced thousands of similar lawsuits.
In response to these legal challenges, Monsanto/Bayer has taken steps to improve transparency and accountability regarding the safety and environmental impact of its products. For example, the company has created a transparency initiative that allows public access to safety data and has committed to investing in research and development to address concerns about the environmental impact of its products.
Dow Chemical has become synonymous with greenwashing PR campaigns in a bid to reverse their bad image and gloss over their lack of transparency and accountability in reporting its environmental performance (Lappé 2011). Although it seems like a wonder that the company could market their products as “green” or “sustainable”, this hasn’t curtailed attempts. But the reality is Dow Chemical has been openly criticised for its pollution of the Tittabawassee River in Michigan, which has been a source of ongoing environmental concern as well as its role in the production of Agent Orange, a herbicide used during the Vietnam War that has been linked to serious health problems in veterans and civilians.
Despite announcing various plastic recycling partnerships there are still some big areas of ambiguity surrounding these as highlighted here, which ultimately indicates that not much recycling is happening (Guion 2022).
Dow’s response and mitigation efforts
Dow Chemical has taken several steps to mitigate its greenwashing claims and improve its environmental performance. The company has established a set of sustainability goals to reduce its environmental impact and increase transparency. It has also been recognized by various sustainability rankings and indices, including the Dow Jones Sustainability Index, the CDP Climate Change A-List, and the FTSE4Good Index.
In response to its pollution of the Tittabawassee River, Dow Chemical has worked with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality to clean up the contaminated site. The company has also been involved in litigation related to the cleanup and has faced fines and penalties for its pollution.
Regarding its role in the production of Agent Orange, Dow Chemical has maintained that it was one of several companies that produced the herbicide and that it did so at the request of the US government. The company has also argued that it should not be held liable for the health problems associated with Agent Orange. However, Dow Chemical has faced lawsuits related to its production of the herbicide and has paid settlements to veterans and their families.
In terms of plastic recycling partnerships, Dow Chemical has partnered with various organisations and initiatives to develop new recycling technologies and infrastructure. The company has also set a goal to have 100% of its products sold into packaging applications to be reusable or recyclable by 2035. However, there is still some criticism and scepticism about the effectiveness of these initiatives in mitigating the company’s environmental impact and addressing its greenwashing claims.
PepsiCo has been criticised for using phrases like “green” and “environmentally friendly” without providing any substantial proof. Additionally, the company has been criticised for its continued use of plastic packaging, which is a significant contributor to pollution and plastic waste and of making big green promises of reducing plastic by 2025 whilst being nowhere near to achieving their goals (Button 2022). Meanwhile, PepsiCo’s push into regenerative agriculture has come into question owing to the fact that as a case in point in the US, of the 900 million arable acres in the U.S., only about 1.5% is being farmed regeneratively (Nestle 2022).
Furthermore in 2020, PepsiCo and Coca-Cola were sued by Earth Island Institute, over claims that these companies had misled the public about the recyclability of their products (Woolfson, Weinbren, and Hitchen 2022). In 2011, PepsiCo was criticised for promoting a “plant-based” plastic bottle made from 100% renewable sources, which was later found to only contain 30% plant material and was not as biodegradable as the company had suggested (Terry 2011).
PepsiCo’s response and mitigation efforts
PepsiCo has responded to greenwashing claims by stating that it is committed to sustainability and that it has made significant progress in reducing its environmental impact. PepsiCo had also stated that it had made significant progress in sourcing sustainable palm oil and that it had already achieved its goal of sourcing 100% of its palm oil from sustainable sources by the end of 2015. The company has also stated that it has taken steps to improve the recyclability of its packaging materials and reduce its use of virgin plastics.
In response to the finding that their “plant-based” plastic bottle was not 100% plant material as claimed, PepsiCo acknowledged the mistake and clarified that the bottle was actually made from a mixture of petroleum-based materials and bio-based materials, including plant-based materials. The company stated that they had made an error in their original marketing of the product, but that they had never claimed that the bottle was 100% plant-based.
PepsiCo also noted that the bottle was still more environmentally friendly than traditional plastic bottles, as it used less petroleum-based materials and reduced greenhouse gas emissions during production.
Kraft Heinz, has been criticised for using phrases like “natural” and “organic” without providing any substantial proof or for using greenwashing labels and certifications without meeting the standards.
In 2019, a class-action lawsuit was filed against Kraft Heinz for falsely advertising its Capri Sun products as “all-natural” and containing “no artificial preservatives.” The lawsuit alleged that the products contained a preservative called citric acid, which is not natural, and other artificial ingredients (Truth in Advertising 2019).
Their Sensible Solution labelling, aimed at marketing healthier food options for families, used a green label highlighting one component of otherwise unhealthy foods (sugary cereals, processed cheese, jelly, etc), leading shoppers to think the products aren’t just healthy, but they’re sustainable, too (Ettinger 2022). Additionally, the company has been criticised for its packaging waste, lack of transparency in its sourcing and production practices and the fact that their Scope 3 emissions jumped 76% from 25MtCO2e in 2020 to almost 44MtCO2e in 2021 (Burrows 2022).
Kraft Heinz’s response and mitigation efforts
Kraft Heinz has made some progress towards achieving its sustainability goals. As of early 2022, the company had made some advancements towards making its packaging more sustainable. Specifically, Kraft Heinz had achieved a 92% global recycling rate for its packaging materials, up from 89% in 2019. The company has also made progress towards developing more sustainable packaging materials, such as the development of a recyclable flexible film for lunch meat packaging. However, it is important to note that Kraft Heinz still faces significant challenges in meeting its 2025 sustainability goals, particularly in regards to reducing Scope 3 emissions as in 2022 they had reported a 2.2% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions which is insignificant when compared to their emissions increase in 2021.
With regards to the 2010 Capri Sun lawsuit, the company did not admit to any wrongdoing as part of the settlement agreement.
Lessons learned from greenwashing
We can learn several lessons from the mistakes made by companies accused of greenwashing including:
- The importance of transparency: Companies that have been accused of greenwashing often lack transparency in their environmental claims and practices. This highlights the importance of being open and transparent about a company’s environmental impact and efforts to reduce it.
- The need for third-party verification: Consumers need reliable and objective information about a product’s environmental impact. This can be provided through third-party certifications and labelling schemes, which can help build consumer trust.
- The value of environmental stewardship: Companies that prioritise environmental stewardship and invest in making their products and processes more sustainable are less likely to be accused of greenwashing. This shows that a genuine commitment to sustainability is not only good for the environment but also for a company’s reputation and bottom line.
- The importance of follow-through: Making environmental claims is not enough; companies need to follow through on their promises and continuously work to reduce their impact on the environment.
- The role of consumers: Consumers play a critical role in driving demand for genuinely environmentally friendly products and holding companies accountable for their environmental claims and practices.
Greenwashing was the scourge of 2022. Now that we are well into our way into 2023, this must be the year that we stop greenwashing (The Edie 2023). Indeed, the regulatory tide is turning, which will make it increasingly difficult for companies to get away with false or overstated green claims (Ormesher 2023).
To address this issue, both the European Union (EU) and the UK Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) have introduced new guidelines and regulations aimed at promoting transparency and accuracy in environmental claims.
The EU guidelines require companies to provide evidence to support any environmental claims they make, including information about the product’s lifecycle, emissions, and impact on the environment (European Commission, n.d.). Companies must also be transparent about their environmental performance and provide clear information to consumers about the environmental benefits of their products and services.
Similarly, the UK CMA has warned businesses that they must comply with consumer protection law when making environmental claims (UK Government 2021). The CMA’s guidelines require businesses to ensure that their claims are accurate, clear, and substantiated. They also require businesses to provide sufficient information to enable consumers to make informed decisions about the environmental impact of their products and services.
These regulations and guidelines are an important step in protecting consumers from misleading environmental claims and promoting a more sustainable future. However, there are still many cases of greenwashing that persist in various industries, including fashion, travel, and transport.
We must continue to scrutinise the environmental claims made by companies and hold them accountable for their actions. By promoting transparency and accuracy in environmental claims, we can create a more sustainable future where companies and consumers alike are more responsible and mindful of their impact on the environment.
Our data can be used to assess the feasibility of claims made by companies about their sustainability practices. By analyzing and verifying the information provided, we can hold companies accountable and make informed decisions as consumers. Join us in demanding transparency and accuracy from companies and using data to ensure they are truly committed to creating a sustainable future. Together, we can make a positive impact on the environment and promote responsible business practices.
Get in touch to find out more
Askew, Katy. 2022. “’We’re fooled into believing that these companies are taking sufficient action’: Nestlé and Unilever rebuff greenwashing accusation.” Food Navigator. https://www.foodnavigator.com/Article/2022/02/08/we-re-fooled-into-believing-that-these-companies-are-taking-sufficient-action-nestle-and-unilever-rebuff-greenwashing-accusation#.
Berlin, Isaiah. 2023. ““GE Is Trying to Greenwash…” New York Times Advertisement.” Jarren Nylund. https://medium.com/@jarrennylund/ge-is-trying-to-greenwash-new-york-times-advertisement-aaa77b2e50e8?source=topics_v2———5-84——————–2f8d9323_c58c_499a_b2cf_db35dd9e07e3——-17.
BROCK, JOE, CAHYA BUDIMAN, JOHN GEDDIE, VALERIE VOLCOVICI, and Marla Dickerson. 2021. “Big brands stoke cement kilns with plastic waste as recycling falters.” Reuters. https://www.reuters.com/investigates/special-report/environment-plastic-cement/.
Buranyi, Stephen. 2018. “The plastic backlash: what’s behind our sudden rage – and will it make a difference?” The Guardian. https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2018/nov/13/the-plastic-backlash-whats-behind-our-sudden-rage-and-will-it-make-a-difference.
Burrows, David. 2022. “The world’s largest food companies have gone backwards on net zero.” Just Food. https://www.just-food.com/features/the-worlds-largest-food-companies-have-gone-backwards-on-net-zero/.
Button, Danni. 2022. “PepsiCo and Coca-Cola Made Big Green Promises – Here’s How It’s Going.” TheStreet. https://www.thestreet.com/investing/pepsico-and-coca-cola-made-big-green-promises-heres-how-its-going.
Calendar-UK. n.d. “How much of McDonalds packaging is recyclable?” Calendar UK. Accessed April 3, 2023. https://www.calendar-uk.co.uk/faq/how-much-of-mcdonalds-packaging-is-recyclable.
CBC News. 2001. “EPA orders General Electric to clean up Hudson River.” CBC, December 6, 2001. https://www.cbc.ca/news/science/epa-orders-general-electric-to-clean-up-hudson-river-1.295285.
The Coca-Cola Company. 2022. “Coca-Cola 2021 Business & Environmental, Social and Governance Report.” The Coca-Cola Company. https://www.coca-colacompany.com/content/dam/journey/us/en/reports/coca-cola-business-environmental-social-governance-report-2021.pdf.
Dunbar, Elizabeth. 2018. “Minnesota settles water pollution suit against 3M for $850 million.” MPR News. https://www.mprnews.org/story/2018/02/20/3m-pfc-groundwater-pollution-trial-announcement.
The Edie. 2023. “2023 must be the year we stop greenwash – edie.” Edie.net, January 26, 2023. https://www.edie.net/2023-must-be-the-year-we-stop-greenwash/.
Ettinger, Jill. 2013. “Coca-Cola’s ‘Sustainable’ PlantBottle Claims Full of Hot Air.” Organic Authority. https://www.organicauthority.com/energetic-health/coca-colas-sustainable-plantbottle-claims-full-of-hot-air.
Ettinger, Jill. 2022. “Greenwashing: what it is and how do you avoid it? – Planet Mindful.” Planet Mindful -. https://www.planet-mindful.com/greenwashing-what-it-is-and-how-do-you-avoid-it/.
European Commission. n.d. “Circular economy – Green claims.” Green Claims. Accessed April 3, 2023. https://environment.ec.europa.eu/topics/circular-economy/green-claims_en.
Financial Times. n.d. “Coke in new greenwashing claims.” WARC. Accessed April 3, 2023. https://www.warc.com/content/feed/coke-in-new-greenwashing-claims/en-GB/7435.
Geocycle. 2021. “Building progress in managing the plastic waste challenge.” Geocycle. https://www.geocycle.com/building-progress-managing-plastic-waste-challenge.
George, Sarah. 2022. “Greenwashing: Unilever laundry detergent ad campaign banned in the UK – edie.” Edie.net. https://www.edie.net/greenwashing-unilever-laundry-detergent-ad-campaign-banned-in-the-uk/.
GIRION, LISA. 2018. “J&J knew for decades that asbestos lurked in its Baby Powder.” Reuters. https://www.reuters.com/investigates/special-report/johnsonandjohnson-cancer/.
Greenpeace. n.d. “Unilever.” Greenpeace. Accessed April 3, 2023. https://www.greenpeace.org/static/planet4-netherlands-stateless/2019/03/b4d9ed80-factsheet-unilever-greenpeace.pdf.
Guion, David. 2022. “Dow’s new sustainability partnerships for plastic recycling – Sustaining Our World.” – Sustaining Our World. https://sustainingourworld.com/2022/07/30/dows-new-sustainability-partnerships-for-plastic-recycling/.
Hall, Ashley C. n.d. “Sustainable Packaging Playbook.” Walmart. Accessed April 3, 2023. https://cdn.corporate.walmart.com/c0/02/c8b62e684567bb16e0877d6614de/new-wm-packagingplaybook.pdf.
Hardcastle, Jessica L. 2017. “’Greenwashing’ Costing Walmart $1 Million.” Environment + Energy Leader. https://www.environmentalleader.com/2017/02/greenwashing-costing-walmart-1-million/.
Hills, Sarah. 2008. “Nestle accused of greenwashing water.” FoodNavigator-USA. https://www.foodnavigator-usa.com/Article/2008/12/02/Nestle-accused-of-greenwashing-water.
Lappé, Anna. 2011. “CSRWire – Dow Chemical Greenwashing Campaign Exposed.” CSRwire. https://www.csrwire.com/press_releases/32379-dow-chemical-greenwashing-campaign-exposed.
Levin, Sam, and Patrick Greenfield. 2018. “Monsanto ordered to pay $289m as jury rules weedkiller caused man’s cancer.” The Guardian. https://www.theguardian.com/business/2018/aug/10/monsanto-trial-cancer-dewayne-johnson-ruling.
Lieu, Diana. 2021. “What Has Changed Since We Filed Our Lawsuit Against a Beverage Industry Giant & What Still Must Be Changed — The Praxis Project.” The Praxis Project. https://www.thepraxisproject.org/announcements/2021/2/8/what-has-changed-since-we-filed-our-lawsuit-against-a-beverage-industry-giant-and-what-still-must-be-changed.
Malkan, Stacy, and Gary Williams. n.d. “Merchants of Poison: A case study in pesticide industry science denial on glyphosate (an excerpt) – U.S. Right to Know.” USRTK.org. Accessed April 3, 2023. https://usrtk.org/monsanto/merchants-of-poison-a-case-study-in-pesticide-industry-science-denial-an-excerpt/.
Nash, Tim. 2019. “Sustainable stock showdown: Johnson & Johnson vs. Unilever.” Corporate Knights. https://www.corporateknights.com/responsible-investing/tim-nashs-sustainable-stock-showdown-johnson-johnson-vs-unilever/.
Nestle. 2020. “Nestlé PH, CEMEX to collect and divert plastic waste in Cebu.” Nestlé Philippines. https://www.nestle.com.ph/media/news/nestle-cemex-partnership.
Nestle. 2020. “Plastic neutrality in August.” Nestlé Philippines. https://www.nestle.com.ph/media/news/august-plastic-neutrality.
Nestle, Marion. 2022. “PepsiCo’ push into regenerative agriculture: real or greenwashing?” Food Politics. https://www.foodpolitics.com/2022/09/pepsico-push-into-regenerative-agriculture-real-or-greenwashing/.
News24. 2011. “McDonald’s faces a $1.8m fine in Brazil.” News24, December 7, 2011. https://www.news24.com/news24/mcdonalds-faces-a-18m-fine-in-brazil-20150430.
Ormesher, Ellen. 2023. “How The Regulatory Tide Is Turning Against Greenwashing Brands In 2023.” The Drum. https://www.thedrum.com/news/2023/01/23/how-the-regulatory-tide-turning-against-greenwashing-brands-2023.
Palm Oil Detectives. 2021. “Johnson & Johnson – Palm Oil Detectives.” Palm Oil Detectives. https://palmoildetectives.com/2021/02/09/johnson-johnson/.
Rice, Damien, and Matt Galbraith. 2008. “.,.” ., – YouTube. https://www.science.org/content/article/coke-discloses-support-health-studies.
Rizzi, Corrado. 2019. “Class Action: Nestlé’s ‘Sustainable’ Chocolate Labeling Is a Sham Due to Child Labor, Lack of Environmental Standards.” ClassAction.org. https://www.classaction.org/news/class-action-nestls-sustainable-chocolate-labeling-is-a-sham-due-to-child-labor-lack-of-environmental-standards.
Seabrook, Victoria. 2021. “Climate change: McDonald’s launches net zero carbon restaurant – prompting accusations of greenwashing.” Sky News. https://news.sky.com/story/climate-change-mcdonalds-launches-net-zero-carbon-restaurant-prompting-accusations-of-greenwashing-12490936.
State of New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection. 2019. Attorney General, DEP Announce Suit Against 3M, DuPont, Others For Making, Selling Toxic Chemicals in Firefighting Foam Product. https://www.state.nj.us/dep/newsrel/2019/19_0514b.htm.
Terry, Beth. 2011. “The Truth About Pepsi’s New Plant-Based PET Plastic Bottle » My Plastic-free Life.” My Plastic-free Life. https://myplasticfreelife.com/2011/04/the-truth-about-pepsis-new-plant-based-pet-plastic-bottle/.
Timmins, Beth. 2022. “Persil advert banned for misleading green claims.” BBC. https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-62726666.
Truth in Advertising. 2019. “Capri Sun.” Truth in Advertising. https://truthinadvertising.org/class-action/capri-sun/.
UK Government. 2021. “Greenwashing: CMA puts businesses on notice.” GOV.UK. https://www.gov.uk/government/news/greenwashing-cma-puts-businesses-on-notice.
Vedova, Holly, and Lesley Fair. 2022. “$5.5 million total FTC settlements with Kohl’s and Walmart challenge “bamboo” and eco claims, shed light on Penalty Offense enforcement.” Federal Trade Commission. https://www.ftc.gov/business-guidance/blog/2022/04/55-million-total-ftc-settlements-kohls-and-walmart-challenge-bamboo-and-eco-claims-shed-light.
Woolfson, Daniel, Emma Weinbren, and Lionel Hitchen. 2022. “PepsiCo rolls back use of 100% recycled plastic bottles amid supply struggles.” The Grocer. https://www.thegrocer.co.uk/soft-drinks/pepsico-rolls-back-use-of-100-recycled-plastic-bottles-amid-supply-struggles/669465.article.
World Resources Institute. 1991. “McDonald’s Case B1: THE CLAMSHELL CONTROVERSY.” World Resources Report. http://pdf.wri.org/bcs_mcdonalds_caseb1.pdf