I’ve got a lot to say about the topic of greenwashing! This week is all about tips to avoid greenwashing, including what greenwashing is. For a naughty list of companies caught greenwashing, see Companies that are Greenwashing and Companies that are Greenwashing – Part 2
What is Greenwashing?
Greenwashing is when a company uses PR or marketing in a deceptive way to promote the perception that their products, aims, or policies are environmentally friendly.
Why should you care about Greenwashing?
Maybe you don’t care, but I don’t like brands lying to me. I try to be an eco-conscious, intentional consumer, and it makes it frustrating to pick good products when I’m being misled. Just like you wouldn’t want to go on a blind date with someone whose online profile is nothing like how they are in reality, the same goes for products. If I find out retrospectively that a product is actually bad for the environment, I’m upset because I’ve given money to a company I don’t want to support, I have a product I don’t want to use, and I feel guilty for buying something harmful.
Are all ‘green’ products Greenwashing?
I don’t want give you the impression that all companies are bad and nobody is trying to create products that are actually better for the environment. Do your research before you buy. A good rule of thumb is to look at smaller independent brands that have clear environmental policies on their websites. If they can give you decisive answers to your questions, list ingredients, and are transparent and factual with their statistics, that’s a good sign. Smaller companies also have a lot to lose if they solely produce ‘green’ products —they better be good, otherwise the company will go bust.
Major corporations, including conglomerates run by one over-arching company (e.g. Proctor and Gamble, Unilever) make many products so one shady “eco-product” that gets caught isn’t going to destroy their profits, it will just annoy some people.
Equally, it’s difficult for consumers to separate parent companies who don’t make remotely ‘green’ products from children companies that do. Burt’s Bees is owned by Clorox, The Body Shop is owned by L’Oreal etc. (you can read more about this here). It’s up to the consumer to decide how many degrees of separation are need between the questionable practices of one company and the ‘green’ practices of the sister company before they consider buying products.
Tips to Avoid Greenwashing
- Look for certification symbols: soil association, FSC for responsibly sourced paper products, certified organic, the leaping bunny for cruelty free, fairtrade symbol, rainforest alliance certified, and green seal certified are common. Check out this labels index for global certifications. There are an awful lot of certifications out there so do a quick ‘google’ to check that the certification on your product is authentic.
- Question words that carry no universal, legal, or measurable meaning like:
- ‘pure’, ‘natural’, ‘green’, ‘sustainable’, ‘recyclable’, biodegradable’, ‘eco-friendly’, ‘chemical-free’, ‘organic’ [with no certification symbol], ‘compostable’ [difference between home and industrial], ‘botanical’, ‘dermatologist tested’, and claims like ‘paraben free’ as the product could have loads of other chemicals in it.
- Avoid buying a product for eco reasons based purely on aethetics. Is the packaging or marketing covered in green, styled with flowers and plants? Great, beautiful, but that means nothing when it comes to the environmental integrity of that product and its producer.
- Read the ingredients and educate yourself about what they are. Some people are more sensitive to ingredients than others (allergies). It’s up to you to decide what you want in your house and in your body.
- Avoid vague claims. Look for clear and quantifiable facts if the company is claiming to be eco-friendly.
- Weigh up the costs/benefits of the claim the product and its company are making. For example, a product could be plastic free, but it might have a huge carbon footprint. The product could be made in an unethical factory, and require resource-heavy production with loads of chemicals that aren’t disposed of safely.
For more information on greenwashing check out: