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Cheated by color-washing: colors for all displeasures.

Updated: Apr 4

A range of colors with which some brands wash their image through communication strategies that do not always adjust to their commitments.

Color-washing techniques are used as a marketing strategy to monetize people’s personal values and to better attract socially and environmentally conscious customers. More brands believe that they need to remain relevant and it is becoming critical to know how to distinguish between real purpose and superficial intent.

What types of color-washing exist?

There’s not just greenwashing. In addition, there’s brown-, pink- and rainbow washing too. Increasingly, more terms pop up describing the misleading practices that companies do in order to attract customers.

Over the next paragraphs, we will introduce to you all the types of color washing techniques that these companies are using. Do you think you will know how to identify any of the types?

Here, you will learn how to correctly identify this problem.


Every June, many companies around the world participate in Pride Month and express their support for the LGBTQ+ community. In some cases, this is an extraordinary way to promote change and tolerance acceptance among LGBTQ+ people.

In other cases, this is just another example of a rainbow-washing for-profit and corporate influence.

Now, more than ever, companies produce products designed in the colors of the proud flag for sale in June.

If companies want to participate and show support for pride, they should make sure that there is no rainbow wash in doing so. The problem is that some of the companies that use these practices are funded by countries that condemn homosexuality and impose the death penalty.

There are 11 countries that condemned homosexual behavior with the death penalty, people whose sexual orientation or gender identity differed from normal people paid a high price for being themselves.

According to the State Homophobia report, 69 UN member states still criminalize consensual sexual acts between people adults of the same sex.


Pinkwashing is a seemingly sympathetic attitude on the part of companies towards women and the issues they champion particularly women's empowerment.

Initially used to refer to the utilization of the pink breast cancer awareness ribbon to sell more products.

The history of the pink ribbon and the support for breast cancer survivors has become a commercial plan for many brands to have a better image while increasing their sales by using the color pink in products.

For example, a clothing brand that uses a differing range of models, while simultaneously, they are employing people in sweatshops to produce their products.



Like pinkwashing, this term has taken on several meanings. This phenomenon of understating environmental efforts is attributed to brownwashing.

It can refer to a cover-up of prohibited activity by working with value-based organizations.

It’s also often used to characterize the casting of white actors in non-white roles.

Furthermore, can also refer to a brand appearing to support BIPOC (a term used by some people to refer to people of color) while not implementing anti-racist education into the company.


Greenwashing uses marketing to portray and promote a company's products, activities as eco-friendly when they are not.

Greenwashing was a term composed from the tourism industry: the new yorker environmentalist Jay Westervelt in 1986, wrote an essay regarding a hotel in Samoa’s practices.

Why is color washing problematic?

You can easily fall into supporting a brand that has not actually made any efforts. Many consumers find it confusing to verify claims.

Color washing takes advantage of this confusion so that even if you try to make a decision, you may end up failing to support a brand that meets your goals.

Regarding greenwashing, according to GH Lab experts, these are some common green claims to be aware of: "Conflict-free" smartphones, "Biodegradable" cleaning products, “Hormone-free” poultry, "Green” fashion brands, "Biodegradable" clothing, "Bamboo" or "eucalyptus" bedding, "Chemical-free" beauty products, "Clean" beauty, "Non-toxic" products, “Free of-” claims and “All natural” anything.

What problems does color washing cause?

Color washing does not only affect the organization's customers. It will have a negative impact on the entire industry: economically, environmentally and socially.

Consumers usually rely on advertisements to inform their purchases. Without confidence in the organization, consumers cannot decide on their purchases because they don’t know who or what to trust.

Therefore, color washing may expose the entire market.

What is the EU's position on the issue?

About greenwashing, the European Commission analyzed green online claims from various business sectors, in 42% of cases the claims were exaggerated, false or deceptive and they could potentially qualify as unfair commercial practices under EU rules.

According to Didier Reyners, Commissioner for Justice: “More and more people want to live a green life, and I applaud companies that strive to produce eco-friendly products or services. However, there are also unscrupulous traders out there, who pull the wool over consumers' eyes with vague, false or exaggerated claims”.

How can you avoid color washing?

When you see a lot of environmental products, the promotion of change acceptance among LGBTQ+ people and the utilization of the pink breast cancer awareness, you should be doubtful.

Check the label for more details.

Any claim on a product should be shown with data and specific insights. It can be useful to look up information on the websites.

Ask questions

The easiest way to color washing is to ask questions. Don't be passive, contact the companies and ask their sources.

Expect transparency. Brands must share specific data.

If a brand is taking steps to achieve sustainability or to be LGBTQ+ friendly, they will be happy to share details. Look for percentages and clear explanations for all claims.

Be aware of false advertising

Look for meaningful statements. Be aware of general and ill-defined statements. If these claims are not accompanied by any supporting information, question the company.

Be aware of hidden trade-offs

Keep an eye on the labeling of a service or product based on a small number of ethical and responsible attributes, lots of times it's no true.

Verify the brand’s claims.

Look for environmental labels that can verify the brand statement from the established environmental labels, so as not to be deceived:

Unfortunately, people may not be as familiar with the term greenwashing.

In fact, in a survey carried out by the digital newspaper GH, an overwhelming 86% of readers said they didn't know the meaning of greenwashing.

Greenwashing in tourism

Terms like "sustainable" and "ecological" are pervading the tourism industry. Today, more than a third of travelers are looking for eco and responsible tourism and are willing to pay up to 40% more for the experience. These trends are expected to grow rapidly over the next 20 years.

In the tourism sector, it is becoming increasingly difficult to find greenwashing activities.

Many factors intersect to form a complete environmental profile of travel experience.

There are many ways circuits can make a false claim of sustainability, from transport to services.

For example, “nature-based tourism” and “green” do not necessarily mean that the experience has any sustainable benefits. Greenwashing in sustainable tourism is serious. It affects people's lives, indigenous cultures and the conservation of biodiversity.

Tourism is prone to the ecological trap of demonstrating local governments and trying to differentiate itself in highly commercial tourism.

To prove an ecological claim, some organizations go through the process of verifying and certifying tourism products: accommodations and attractions that meet predefined criteria.

In addition, a coalition of 32 partners established a global partnership for the Global Sustainable Tourism Criteria initiated by the Rainforest Alliance. The aim is to deepen the understanding of sustainable tourism practices.

On balance, companies should not use these colors for the sole purpose of maximizing their profits. Happily, the consumer, more and more, criticizes these actions of opportunistic companies that say more than they do. In this way, companies in the tourism sector that practice color-washing are penalized.

Indeed, actions speak louder than words. This has to be kept in mind while avoiding color-washing, also in the tourism sector. Leave the pink banners aside and empower more women without the pay gap, if you want to really make clients aware of your consciousness about gender problems. Give them the chance to build their careers and reach high-tier positions. Do the same for the LGBT+ community, 365 days a year, not only in June.

Donating part of your profits to associations that deal with inequalities can be a good point to make a real difference, without color-washing. Allow everyone to work in a fair and respectable workplace while complying with the safeguard of the environment.

Be concrete! The facts speak for themselves. And customers trust more the companies which act coherently with their beliefs.

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