How to Steer Clear of Greenwashing

An example – “Farmer’s Market” brand, a strategic name to make you think feel
like you are buying local, but it’s really shipped from Mexico.

If you haven’t heard of Greenwashing, then you need to. Do you remember when more “green” products were coming onto the market? It seemed like either the word “green” or the colour green was on every product I was coming across. At first I was excited, but then I started reading the small print and learning more. There may have been a little portion of the product that was “green,” for example the packaging was made from 10% recycled plastic, but contained an ingredient list the same as the non-green product. Or it visually looked like a sustainable earth-friendly product, but in reality wasn’t at all! This is called Greenwashing. Marketing that makes a product seem eco-friendly, but in reality it isn’t.

Companies ultimately want you to buy their product, and that’s what marketing is for, to convince you to buy it. In a way Greenwashing is a good thing, as it demonstrates that companies are catching on to the desires of the consumer. But if this is a way to trick unknowing customers into buying a product, then this is a shameful way of doing it!

The video below uses Fiji Water as an example of Greenwashing:

Types of Greenwashing

Here are 8 types of greenwashing companies use, and these are straight from an article at Eco Watch (+ 1 from Building Green):

1. Hidden Trade-Off: Labeling a product as environmentally friendly based on a small set of attributes (i.e., made of recycled content) when other attributes not addressed (i.e., energy use of manufacturing, gas emissions, etc.) might make a bigger impact on the eco-friendliness of a product as a whole. Also, just because a product is able to be recycled, does not mean it is being recycled at your local facility, so find out first before you trust the label.

2. No Proof: Making an environmental claim without providing easily accessible evidence on either the label or the product website (i.e., a light bulb is touted as energy efficient with no supporting data, such as a certification symbol).

3. Vagueness: Using terms that are too broad or poorly defined to be properly understood (i.e., an “all-natural” cleaner may still contain harmful ingredients that are naturally occurring).

4. Irrelevance: Stating something that is technically true but not a distinguishing factor when looking for eco-friendly products (i.e., advertised as “CFC-Free”—but since CFCs are banned by law this is unremarkable).

5. Lesser of Two Evils: Claiming to be greener than other products in its category when the category as a whole may be environmentally unfriendly (i.e., an organic cigarette may be greener, but, you know, it’s still a cigarette).

6. Fibbing: Advertising something that just isn’t true (i.e., claims to be Energy Star Certified, but isn’t).

7. Worshiping False Labels: Implying that a product has a third-party endorsement or certification that doesn’t actually exist, often through the use of fake certification labels.

8. Green by Association: A company slathers itself and its marketing thoroughly in environmental terms and images so that even if its products have no environmental benefits, consumers associate them with positive environmental attributes. Examples: Gas-guzzling cars and trucks pictured in remote natural settings, or housing developments named for natural features that they have destroyed, e.g., “Conifer Lane.”

Common Greenwashing Words: Sustainable, Natural, Naturally Derived, Green, Preservative-free, Organic, Chemical-free, Dermatologist-approved, Botanical, and Holistic.

Another example – Coconut FLAVOURED Cheerios that make you believe its healthy and/or environmental.
In reality there’s absolutely NO coconut in the ingredient list and has nothing more environmental about it.

What Now?

Now that you know what Greenwashing is and how to spot it, you will be more equipped to make a more informed decision as a consumer. Make sure you are educated before buying – shop with intentionality!

Doing your research means just that, get on the internet and find out about the changes you are wanting to make. There is a lot of false information out there on the internet (shocking!), so ensure that the information you read has adequate sources. Unfortunately the growth of the internet has lead to a lot of false information. I have read statistics, claims, and opinions that are outright false or only partially true. Determining whether something is safe or low-impact for the environment can be complicated and will have many layers, and that is why it is good to rely on good research and sourced information.

3 thoughts on “How to Steer Clear of Greenwashing

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