The Dangers of Greenwashing Marketing’s 4 Ps

Peter Sumpton writer, tutor and mentor at Professional Academy

1. Introduction of Indicators:

In an era where sustainability is at the forefront of consumer consciousness, the construction industry in the UK has witnessed a surge in environmentally conscious practices. However, beneath the veneer of eco-friendly claims lies the lurking threat known as greenwashing. This deceptive marketing practice not only undermines the authenticity of sustainable efforts, is highly unethical, lazy and in most cases does nothing to boost the sales activation of even the most brazen of companies, but also poses significant long-term issues, impacting the four tactical pillars of marketing’s 4 Ps: Product, Price, Place, and Promotional tactics.

Product: The Façade of Green Credentials

The essence of greenwashing the 4 Ps often begins with the misrepresentation of products. Companies may exaggerate or falsely claim their products are sustainable in their make-up and development, neglecting to provide transparent information about the materials used, manufacturing processes, or the overall environmental impact. Many consumers will not read further than the main headline, the false or inaccurate claim (unless it is mandatory or is done through legal requirement) and so the short-term impact may be negligible. But this is a slippery slope as the long-term implications can hit internally as well as externally (think VW’s diesel emissions claim or HSBC funding of oil and gas). Not only does this erode any brand reputation that has been built over many years if not decades, with consumers investing in products that do not align with their sustainability beliefs, eroding trust, but from a product development and R&D perspective there's more to do by way of testing, authenticating and certifying future products or services to keep up with latest trends and competitors as well as vindicate previously false claims.

Price: The Hidden Costs of Greenwashing

Greenwashing can also impact the price dynamics for products and services as well as creating headaches further down the line.

Authentic sustainable practices often come with higher upfront costs, reflecting investments in sustainable materials, energy-efficient technologies, and ethical labour practices. However, greenwashing allows companies to charge premium prices for products or services that do not deliver on their environmental promises. This is especially true when an organisation is part of a larger supply chain where products and services from a third party are harder to regulate and check their ethical credentials.

Organisations can easily cast a blind eye over suppliers as well as distributors, but only for a limited time (numerous large organisations have been caught out by not regulating their supply chain, such as M&S and Apple in recent years). The short-term gain from premium pricing and a lax regulatory process does not outweigh the longer-term implications of greenwashing, needing to work harder to convince consumers that green credentials are just, an investment within the supply chain and increased regulatory checks as well as trying to maintain a price point that many authenticated products and services can charge and avoid having to lower the price to be competitive against less sustainable options.

Place: The Destructive Impact of Misleading Practices

Distribution and accessibility of a product or service can be instrumental to maintaining sustainable credentials, where product miles can make up a good proportion of the overall environmental impact.

It can be easy for distribution to be misrepresented on the eco-scale with many organisations providing numerous options for the accessibility of their products. Online, in-store, delivery or pick-up are just a few options that can be easily utilised to bump up the sustainable nature of both the product and the organisation.

We see this in services as well, especially within the delivery sector where CO2 emissions can be tracked and calculated and carbon offsetting introduced or investment into electric vehicles. But as with most calculations, these can be hazy at best and what is taken into consideration when calculating is up for debate. How far do we actually take this? A calculation on miles, electricity consumption, deliveries made, manufacturing of the vehicles, delivery of the vehicles?

If we take e-commerce as another example, is this better than bricks and mortar? And what are the calculations here - the number of visitors not driving to stores? Regional activity? Server energy to maintain an active website? Warehousing set-up?

The list is a long one and there is no correct answer as to what calculation is the right one (usually the one that reduces CO2 the most - Quorn’s unverifiable carbon-footprint claims spring to mind), but misleading claims may lead to lengthy and expensive changes as well as a loss of faith from consumers through potential changes in suppliers, distributors, third parties, partners and other resources.

Promotion: Deceptive Messaging and Its Consequences

Communications often shape consumer perception and greenwashing relies heavily on misleading promotional tactics, creating an illusion of environmental responsibility.  Companies may use vague or ambiguous language, green imagery, and misleading certifications to deceive consumers.

In the long term, such deceptive promotional practices erode consumer trust with no quick fix available to regain it. The unfortunate consequences here do not just impact one organisation, they can impact an entire industry from the perspective of manipulating regulations by which others play fairly to their short-term detriment.

Companies engaging in promotional greenwashing risk losing their market share and facing legal consequences for engaging in false advertising.

And it isn’t just advertising in a traditional sense that can be affected. Think packaging here. The use of the colour green, subtle wording and content or being part of an association, and using their logo on the actual packaging are all ways for a product or service to be perceived as more ethically aligned than it is. As with the product itself, false advertising can take years to rectify. You only have to look at Coca-Cola's failed Life product or an airline such as RyanAir or Delta claiming lower emissions than is true, to see how easy it is to falsify claims and get away with it… for a while.


Addressing the menace of greenwashing the 4 Ps is crucial for the long-term sustainability of any organisation. The bigger these organisations are, the easier it becomes to produce these claims, defend them and/or recover from being exposed. The little guy doesn't have this luxury which is why all of the examples given above are large organisations that lived to tell the tale.

By ensuring transparency in product claims, pricing models, distribution, and promotional tactics, organisations can build a foundation of trust with consumers and contribute meaningfully to a greener future. As consumers become increasingly vigilant, the prioritisation of authenticity and ethical practices to foster a genuine long-term strategy, built on stats that can be verified and checked becomes increasingly important and less expensive than an approach built on short-term capitalisation of the latest ‘thing’. Wash with green and it will cost you more than gold!

This blog topic of greenwashing Marketing’s 4 Ps relates to the CIM Level 6 Diploma in Professional Marketing. Find out more about this award CIM Diploma in Professional Marketing | Professional Academy

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