What You Need to Know About Greenwashing
Updated: Apr 18, 2021
Greenwashing is when a company misleads consumers to believe that their products or practices benefit the environment. You might think that it is easy to spot greenwashing, but sometimes it's really not. Different layers go into it, which depends a lot on its size, offerings, and marketing. These big companies know that sustainable practices are an ever-increasing consumption among consumers. They will go to great lengths to convince you that they are doing something; instead of actually changing to become eco-friendly. There are many tactics that a company will use to convince you that they are environmentally friendly. Please keep reading to find out how to spot these tactics and what to do about them.
Some telltale signs are super easy to spot that a company is trying to trick you into believing they're environmentally friendly. The most obvious examples being green/earthy-themed packaging, "eco-friendly or green" as product description (without backing them up), and *of course* non-recyclable packaging. Going along with packaging, compostable packaging is normally greenwashing because it is compostable in an industrial environment. There has been a clear distinction made between home compostable and industrial compostable. You want something that is home compostable. Now, these are super easy to spot, and you've probably already heard of them, but how can you tell when a company itself is attempting to portray itself as a green company. One easy-to-spot trick is to look for an about us page or sustainability page. Most companies trying to greenwash will not have information on how they are changing or doing good for the environment. They will normally make unsubstantiated claims as well like their products are organic without being certified organic.
Unfortunately, another issue is that many big corporate giants create smaller brands that are marketed toward eco-conscious consumers. They will portray only that specific brand as environmentally friendly when the rest of the organization is completely unsustainable. I know this happens in cosmetics, and there are a few conglomerates with multiple brands that don't stand for the same causes. Companies do this to gain a higher market share and make more money, not because they care about the environment. This is one clear indicator that a company is not really sustainable because every time you purchase from that brand, you're still funding the parent company to continue its unsustainable practices.
There are additional signs that a company is attempting to mislead you into believing they are sustainable. Many of these have to do with how they advertise their products and how they promote them. Companies will often try to distract you with phrasing and storytelling to distract you from the products' negatives. Take, for example, any pharmaceutical commercial ever. Or "cage-free" eggs or "free-range" beef, which are both complete marketing scams to make you think that these animals are living free happy lives. *Spoiler Alert* they definitely are not. If a company is attempting to get you to purchase from them and impulse buy continuously, they most likely do not have Mama Earths' best interests in mind. You can also see what they advertise to tempt you to purchase. Many companies now offer to plant trees, which, don't get me wrong, is good, but we can't plant away from the climate crisis. Another huge signal is who this brand is partnered with, and do they donate to any charities? A lot of environmentally friendly organizations will partner with non-profits working for change or with other sustainable companies. Earth Hero, for example, partners with 1% for the planet, as do a lot of other sustainable shops. A positive sign to look out for is a B-certified company or a carbon-neutral certification. If you have any other signals to look out for, drop them in the comments!
Why It Matters
Great, so now we know more about how companies greenwash, but you might be thinking, why does it matter, and why should I care? It matters because these brands are making money by misleading you to believe that you are purchasing a sustainable product or service. They make you believe that this product is better for the environment or animals than its competitors, and they then profit from this. In my mind, this is not only unethical, but it's hurtful; they are hurting small businesses and companies putting in the work to change for the better by targeting their customers and succeeding because they have the means to mass-produce and charge less. As a consumer, it shouldn't be this hard to figure out whether a company is sustainable or not. Not only should we spend our money on truly sustainable companies, but we should also demand action from the government. Companies shouldn't be allowed to promote their products or brand in such a misleading way.