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Dhaka Tribune

Green for show

Unmasking greenwashing in Bangladesh and the deceptive eco-friendly claims

Update : 04 Oct 2023, 02:22 PM

In a world increasingly concerned about environmental issues, "green" products are in high demand. But beneath the surface of some well-intentioned marketing claims lies a disturbing trend: Greenwashing. 

Defined as the practice of exaggerating environmental benefits, making unproven assertions, or concealing negative impacts to attract environmentally concerned customers, greenwashing is now a significant concern within Bangladesh.

From the realms of fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG) to textiles and home appliances, the scourge of greenwashing has infiltrated various industries in Bangladesh. What appears to be a noble commitment to sustainability often reveals itself as nothing more than a facade aimed at attracting eco-conscious consumers. The results can be harmful, not only to the environment, but also to consumers who are misled into making uninformed purchasing decisions.

A recent study conducted in Bangladesh sheds light on the extent of this issue. The research applied the seven sins model of greenwashing, examining practices such as the sin of proof, hidden trade-offs, vagueness, irrelevance, and more. 

Shockingly, the study found that a staggering 98% of sampled consumer products spanning various sectors were guilty of practising at least one form of greenwashing. These practices not only threaten the integrity of genuine sustainability efforts, but also compromises the consumers' ability to make informed choices.

Several factors contribute to the rampant greenwashing in Bangladesh:

  1. Lack of regulations: The absence of stringent regulations governing environmental claims allows companies to mislead consumers with vague or false assertions about their products' green credentials.
  2. Consumer pressure: The increasing demand for eco-friendly products has led companies to bend the truth in an attempt to meet consumer expectations and tap into the emerging market for sustainability.
  3. Complex supply chains: Industries with intricate supply chains often find it difficult to accurately gauge the environmental impact of their products. This complexity can lead to inaccurate or misleading claims.
  4. Cost considerations: Implementing genuine sustainable practices can be expensive. In search of cost-effective alternatives, some companies resort to greenwashing as a way to appear environmentally conscious without the corresponding effort.
  5. Reputation enhancement: Firms in Bangladesh leverage environmental concerns to boost their reputation and appeal to eco-conscious consumers, even if their practices aren't truly sustainable.
  6. Lack of consumer awareness: A lack of awareness among consumers about greenwashing tactics leaves them vulnerable to misleading claims, making it crucial to educate the public about this deceptive practice.
  7. Enforcement challenges: While regulatory frameworks exist, enforcement remains a challenge, enabling companies to engage in greenwashing practices without facing consequences.

Although Bangladesh possesses various laws addressing consumer protection, trademarks, competition, and digital security, none of them specifically target greenwashing. To confront this pressing issue head-on, policymakers must consider incorporating provisions that directly address misleading environmental claims within these existing laws.

These policy gaps have serious repercussions:

Ineffective deterrence: The absence of dedicated regulations targeting greenwashing minimizes the deterrence effect. Companies engaging in such practices often escape substantial penalties due to legal loopholes.

Consumer vulnerability: Without clear definitions and guidelines, consumers remain vulnerable to false environmental claims. Lack of awareness and information impedes their ability to make informed choices.

Undermining genuine efforts: Companies genuinely investing in sustainable practices face unfair competition from those resorting to greenwashing. This erodes the credibility of businesses making authentic strides toward sustainability.

Addressing greenwashing demands a comprehensive and cohesive policy framework:

Establish clear definitions: Legislation should explicitly define greenwashing, encompassing various forms of misleading environmental claims. This will provide a solid foundation for enforcement.

Dedicated regulations: Enact specific regulations addressing greenwashing across industries. These regulations should include guidelines for environmental claims, penalties for violations, and mechanisms for consumer complaints.

Consumer education initiatives: Introduce campaigns and programs to educate consumers about greenwashing tactics. Empowering consumers with knowledge is a crucial step towards countering deceptive marketing strategies.

Consumer-friendly product labeling: Consumer-friendly product labeling promotes eco-friendly practices by providing accurate information to conscious consumers, encouraging a demand-driven shift towards sustainable practices.

Incorporate environmental impact assessment: Require companies to undergo thorough environmental impact assessments for products claiming eco-friendliness. Independent verification can validate the legitimacy of such claims.

Collaboration and monitoring: Foster collaboration between regulatory bodies, industry experts, and consumer advocates to ensure effective monitoring and enforcement of greenwashing regulations.

Periodic review: Establish mechanisms for regular updates of policies to adapt to evolving trends in greenwashing tactics and technological advancements.

By promoting supply chain transparency, businesses can provide a clearer picture of their products' lifecycle, minimizing the opportunity for misleading claims. Moreover, it's crucial to incentivize genuine sustainability. Governments can consider rewards for companies that genuinely adopt eco-friendly practices, encouraging a race to uphold authentic environmental commitments.

As Bangladesh aspires to foster a greener future, it's time to tackle greenwashing head-on. By closing policy gaps, raising consumer awareness, and fostering genuine sustainability, the nation can work towards an honest and sustainable marketplace that benefits both the environment and the people.

SM Abdullah Al Mamun is a research assistant at Biomedical Research Foundation. Jannatul Ferdous Setu is a marketing graduate from Jagannath University. They can be reached at [email protected] and [email protected] respectively.

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