What is ‘Greenwashing’?

For those of you who have not yet heard this term, ‘Greenwashing’ is a phenomenon within the community that preys on unsuspecting people attempting to become ‘greener’ by making more environmentally sustainable decisions. Greenwashing is a deceptive marketing strategy that has been adopted by many retail companies and organisations to trick individuals into thinking that they are making a positive change for the environment when in reality, they are making a switch to products that were just as bad as their previous products, if not worse.

Is it really that bad?

Greenwashing is a deceptive phenomenon that is much deeper than just causing false sustainability. The current demand in today’s society for ‘greener’ and more environmentally sustainable products has opened a new door for dishonest marketing strategies, by deceptively promoting harmful or toxic products and substances. Companies that use terms such as ‘green’, ‘eco-friendly’, ‘all natural’ and ‘biodegradable’ are not always genuine and often mislead consumers into acting unsustainably.

Here are just a few risks that come hand-in-hand with greenwashing:

  • It allows for consumers to buy toxic or harmful products for individuals and the environment without being aware.
  • Greenwashing creates mistrust or an ingenuous relationship between consumers and corporate companies.
  • The unintentional use of mislabelled products contributes heavily to climate change.
  • Corporate companies increase their global carbon footprint by burning fossil fuels as they advertise environmental friendly products.
  • Unsustainable products contribute massively to environmental pollution, specifical pollution in the ocean and air.
  • The false advertisement of ‘green’ products from corporate companies at a lower price than small businesses’ genuinely sustainable products ultimately supports fast-moving consumer goods and fast fashion and puts small businesses out of business.

So how can I spot it in order to stop it?

There are many different types of greenwashing, and it can get a bit confusing at times. So, here are a few types of greenwashing with an example to help.

Fibbing:

A common form of greenwashing is seen when companies make claims about their products that are simply not true. This could be seen in 2020 when Blueland claimed that every piece of packaging was 100% recyclable when certain materials were not recyclable, but compostable. They in turn discontinued their claim of being 100% recyclable.

Image: https://www.truthinadvertising.org/blueland/

Lesser of two evils:

This form of greenwashing can be seen when companies make environmental claims about products that have no environmental benefit regardless and may be inherently harmful.

Image: https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/small-biz/startups/thank-you-for-smoking-how-organic-smokes-is-helping-smokers-nip-it-in-the-butt/articleshow/56585758.cms

Irrelevance: 

The form of greenwashing known as irrelevance can be seen when a product is marketed with true environmental claims that are completely unrelated to the product. For example, peanut butter is often labelled as ‘cholesterol free’ yet it is plant-based and cholesterol is only found in animal products.

Image:https://shopee.ph/Ligwan-Sugar-Free-and-Cholesterol-Free-Chuncky-Peanut-better-i.139259460.3734750783 

Vagueness:

Vaguely labelling products is another form of greenwashing as it creates a misunderstanding for the consumer by using words such as ‘all natural, ‘organic’, ‘sustainable’ without an explanation. For example, this cereal states that it is ‘organic’ yet the ingredients list proves that only some of the ingredients are organic.

Image: https://www.meijer.com/shopping/product/cascadian-farm-organic-oats-honey-granola-cereal-16-oz-/2190874331.html 

No proof: 

The ‘no proof’ form of greenwashing occurs when brands supply a statement in the absence of substantial information concerning the product claim. For example, LEI electronics claimed that their Eco Alkaline batteries are carbon neutral without providing proof of when reduction in carbon emissions has or will occur.

Image: https://www.truthinadvertising.org/lei-eco-alkaline-batteries/

Hidden trade-off:

Greenwashing can also occur when a product claiming to be green emphasises other environmental issues while ignoring the issues that itself produces. For example, paper products may seem better than plastic, yet they still cause environmental issues such as deforestation and they generally cannot be recycled once they have been used.

So what can I do?

Consumers are not inevitably doomed to fall at the hands of greenwashing giants each time they make a purchase. There are easy ways that you and your family can become more conscious when shopping for products to reduce waste and become more environmentally sustainable. We can all make a difference when purchasing products such as recognising when a product has a vague description and lacks certification stickers. Start by shopping with the intention to buy genuinely environmentally friendly products and avoid products with excessive, hard-to-deal-with packaging such as items that do not allow you to refill them. With each mindful purchase, we all get closer to reaching clean earth.