Updated: Apr 10
Greenwashing is a deceptive technique used by companies to market their business and products as eco-friendly. With the rise of environmentalism, companies have noticed that saving the planet is now 'on-trend'. On the surface this seems to be an incredible step forward. However it is not always sincere and just because a product claims to be eco-friendly, does not mean it is.
Rather than change their ways to become genuinely ethical and sustainable, many brands would prefer to exploit conscious consumers for profit. When trying to live a greener lifestyle many of us often find ourselves in muddy water. To help you avoid this I've put together this guide on how to stay away from greenwashing.
Irrelevant and Misleading Claims
Using terms like 'all natural' and 'Earth friendly' lead us believe we are buying into something sustainable. Although, these terms are regulated by nobody and brands can advertise anything as being 'green'. If you see claims of 'natural' and 'organic' on a product, check to see if the product is genuinely certified. Businesses rely on customers taking their word as fact, so it is important to be vigilant and question claims. 'Made from recycled materials' is often used to advertise sustainable items, giving the impression the entire product is. However when looking at the materials, the recycled element is often a low percentage, usually less than 50%. Furthermore, you may find the breakdown in materials is simply not disclosed which is a big concern. For instance when H&M launched their 'Conscious Collection' the percentage of recycled content per garment was not displayed.
The Green Trap
Quite literally by branding a product using the colour green, you can be misled into thinking it's eco-friendly. An example of this is the release of 'Coca-Cola Life' in 2014, which boasted all green packaging, compared to the distinctive red branding of traditional 'Coke'. Yet the product itself was hardly different from the original Coca-Cola recipe and simply aimed to target the health conscious market. The branding was confusing to consumers, leading to the drink to be discontinued a mere three years later. Aside from green packaging, pictures of leaves and nature were also used in the marketing. This is another way the greenwashing strategy is often used. Images of scenic landscapes mislead people to believe a product is derived from nature, when pictures alone mean nothing.
Look for Transparency
Companies with nothing to hide will openly share their sustainability report on their website and can provide details of manufacturing lines and workers pay. When it comes to business practises, payment of workers is often overlooked. As a result of capitalism and consumerism, we have been led to believe low prices are normal. In reality, the only way to achieve insanely low prices is by cutting corners along the way. The most common sacrifices are either the employees pay or the quality of the product. Cheaper materials used to produce a product often come from non-renewable sources like crude oil. If you can't trace the origins of a product or are unsure workers are making a living wage, it's most likely the company is unethical.
Green Products vs Green Practises
When it comes to sustainability, you'll often find no clear answer to many problems making it easier to buy something which isn't green. A product you are buying itself may be completely eco-friendly, but does the business ethos and practises line up with this agenda? An unethical company can simply manufacture a sustainable product, allowing consumers to fall victim to their deception. Especially when shopping online it can be increasingly difficult to shop consciously. I have been caught out in the past purchasing something online which I believed to be better for the planet, only for it to arrive in single use plastic packaging! Upon deciding which brands to trust, it's necessary to look at the whole picture. Try to avoid simply accepting the story they are trying to sell. It's also important to take note of how far the item will travel to end up at your door. If it is travelling half-way across the globe for delivery the carbon footprint will be off the scale.
Just because something is recyclable it does not mean it is easy to recycle or guarantee it will be. Recycling is not accessible to everybody, especially in most public places. There are seven different types of plastic which vary from being easy to recycle to non-recyclable. Some plastics can take up to 450 years to decompose so companies should be taking advantage of recycling schemes and using recycled materials. Due to this, using virgin plastics in products and packaging is a pretty big warning sign. Businesses believe they are ticking a box by making their product recyclable, but when their products are continuously polluting our planet, I believe it is also their responsibility to see this through.