Management faculty presents solutions to the greenwashing conundrum

Faculty in the Department of Management at Appalachian State University offer advice to consumers as demand grows for sustainable products and services.

"Firms use greenwashing to make products look more sustainable than they are," said Dr. Nicholas Poggioli, an assistant professor of management in the Walker College of Business.

"Marketing materials use terms like eco-friendly, eco-conscious, recyclable, non-toxic and made with biodegradable material to influence purchasing decisions. These claims portray a company’s products as more sustainable, natural, wholesome, or free of toxins than products from competitors."

"As demand for sustainable products and services grows, how do consumers know these marketing claims are true?"

Dr. Poggioli answers this question through research on the ecochain — the set of ecosystems a firm uses to produce and sell its products.

The ecochain adds ecosystems like forests, fisheries, and watersheds to cradle-to-grave circularity analysis to account for how firms affect ecosystem sustainability. Linking a company’s products to the ecosystems used to make them allows consumers to evaluate if producing those products harms the ecosystems.

To understand its ecochain, a firm must identify the natural resources and ecosystem services it uses and map them to the ecosystems that produce those resources and services. 

Key takeaways from this work include:

  • We cannot understand if a firm’s sustainability claims are true unless we know which ecosystems the firm is using to produce its products and services.

  • Businesses need to incorporate natural scientific understanding of ecosystem sustainability into their sustainability claims and product design. Truly sustainable marketing claims must include social and biophysical factors affected by the creation and sale of a product, including the biological mechanisms within ecosystems.

  • An ecochain approach increases transparency and enables consumers to evaluate whether a firm’s eco-friendly claims are greenwashing.

  • Corporate sustainability with ecochain analysis is analogous to profitability with accounting analysis. Just as accounting serves the interests of investors and wider society, ecochain analysis serves the interests of ecosystems and wider society.

Research Sensemaking Socials

This research was presented at “Research Sensemaking Socials” a monthly event conducted by Department of Management at App State, wherein faculty colleagues gather to present their research-in-progress and take ideas from one other. If you would like to get involved in future events, or if you want more information about this research, please contact the Department of Management, 828-262-2163 or

About Faculty Research in the Walker College of Business

The Walker College faculty produce and disseminate extensive research through both academic and professional communities. In the last five years, faculty have published 543 peer reviewed academic journal articles, 160 conference proceedings, and made 533 conference and professional presentations. In total, faculty have produced 1,175 intellectual contributions in the last five years. Approximately 520 intellectual contributions were made in basic or discovery research, 540 in applied or integrative research, and 115 contributions in teaching and learning research. Learn more at

Management faculty presents solutions to the greenwashing conundrum
Published: Dec 12, 2022 1:04pm