Your intentions are good, but don’t be fooled!
The term greenwashing covers all tactics used by companies to improve their image, but this post will only be discussing its application to product labels.
There is a lot of deception in product labeling and you have to be careful not to take everything for face value. The following info will help you know what to look for and how to find out if a product’s claims are authentic.
Habit #5: Know the signs of greenwashing and look deeper.
Instead of immediately going for a product that has the “All Natural” stamp on it, take a deeper look. Do you see any real eco labels? What are the ingredients? Is the brand reputable?
It can be difficult to tell the difference between genuine products and greenwashing. My strategy is to do research and find brands that I know I can trust, then stick with those brands. If I come across a new brand, I’ll usually look it up online and do some digging.
Signs of greenwashing:
Marketers love to use terms like “natural” or “eco friendly” which have little meaning. Be wary of products that make broad claims like these with no backing.
Percentage claims like “60% more recycled materials”. 60% more than what? Plus, using recycled packaging materials is standard across most industries and the majority of truly green brands don’t go out of their way to brag about it.
One thing you can trust: “made with organic ***”. This claim is regulated and organic ingredients have to be certified by the USDA.
Rule of Thumb: Look for real third party certifications on product labels.
Sometimes products will make claims that sound nice but are totally irrelevant, like “CFC Free” even though CFCs were banned more than 20 years ago.
Difficulty finding more info
If you try to look into a product or brand by searching online and have difficulty finding their sustainability information, they’re probably neglecting to publish it for a reason. Brands that are truly making progress are almost always openly advertise what they are doing to be eco friendly and socially responsible.
Misdirection is a classic greenwashing technique and it can be a difficult one to figure. A brand will tout one of their environmental achievements even though the rest of their operations are terrible. They may have done something like donated to an environmental organization or planted a tree for every item sold, but many times this is just a ploy.
Don’t be mislead by green packaging or pretty pictures of nature. Most of the time this has little indication of how environmentally friendly the product really is.
Your Action Item
Keep an eye out for greenwashing. Now that you know the signs, ask questions when you’re unsure. You’ll quickly figure out which brands you can trust and which ones you should avoid.
If you’re not on board this eco education train already, you can get on here:
In this post I go a bit deeper into greenwashing and how to recognize it.
The GWI is a movement to help consumers report greenwashing. If you recognize greenwashing in any industry, you can report it here and see what others are saying too. Note that this is a new initiative and hasn’t acquired much data yet.
To get a brief history of greenwashing, check out this article from The Guardian. It’s a great education and will make you re-evaluate the way you see ads.