Eco Knowledge

Recognizing Greenwashing

“All Natural” “Biodegradable” “Chemical Free” “Clean”

A photo of the “natural cleaners” aisle at Target, which typically aren’t actually that great for you or the planet.

What do all those words have in common? That’s right – You’ve probably seen them on a green bottle with a cute front, inferring that they’re an environmentally friendly product. They’re making the world a better place, right?

Wrong. They’re preying on lovely people like you, that care about the environment, doing something called Greenwashing.

What is Greenwashing?

Greenwashing is a marketing spin, where companies use “green PR” and “green marketing” to deceive the average consumer that the company’s products, goals, and policies support an eco-friendly world and an eco-friendly lifestyle.

Sometimes, greenwashing marketing compares the company to its competitors, claiming they’re somehow better, when in reality they don’t. Sometimes, greenwashing comes in the form of a company releasing one eco-friendly product, to distract you from the fact they’re otherwise not.

At the core of it, the company wants you to believe that they want the same things you do when it comes to the planet. Come on, of course they do, they used a cursive white font on a green label and everything!

Organically Becca, a blog I enjoy, gives a “shoutout” (to use a kind word) to lots of the brands that commonly greenwash. You can see that here.

Why Do Brands Use Greenwashing Techniques?

Short Answer: They still want you to buy their stuff even when they’re not making any eco-friendly changes.

Long Answer: There are lots of consumers, many of whom are the type to read a blog like this, that specifically shop consciously, thoughtfully, and with the planet in mind. I’ll pick on a brand as an example, since literally nobody sponsors me yet so I’m a free range blogger.

If I’m walking down the deodorant aisle, and one of them is ‘Secret – Rose Scented’, in a typical light blue tube. I think “nope, that deodorant is not eco-friendly” and I keep scanning. Then I find the ‘Secret – Essential Oils’ deodorant. This one has a prettier font, a darker bottle, and it says essential oils, so it must be better!

Alas, not the case. This is greenwashing in real time. I’m not even sure why it matters that there are essential oils in there, since there is still fragrance as an ingredient. *Sighs*

The average mildly-eco-conscious consumer wouldn’t know they’d been greenwashed, and they’d buy the essential oil deodorant, sticking more money in the pocket of Secret, who makes a whole lotta bad-for-the-planet deodorants.

Why it’s an Issue

Although already implied, there are a few points to make here, so I’ll make them separately.

Greenwashing Issue #1: Consumer Confusion

The consumer doesn’t know right from wrong, if a product that is actually good for the planet is hiding in amongst a group of imposters. I may think I’m doing good as a consumer, or removing harsh chemicals from my life, when all I did was buy something with a meaningless sticker on it that said biodegradable.

Greenwashing Issue #2: Lack of Regulation/Definition

The words these companies use to fool you don’t actually legally mean anything. Here are some examples:

All Natural – This means… nothing. The What The Health documentary has a whole section on this if you want to go on a tyrade, but this word has no definition. “Yes it does, Lottie, it means that it comes from nature!”. Oh, okay wise guy. Then here, try this “all natural shampoo” it’s made of Mercury, Arsenic, and Lead. Those are all found on the periodic table of elements… so they’re all natural, right?

Biodegradable – This means capable of being decomposed by living organisms, such as bacteria. Cool! Well… almost cool. Those bacteria don’t eat through trash bags, and they usually don’t live in landfills. This means that buying a biodegradable item will usually never actually biodegrade. *Imagine the sims version of me just turned VERY red*.

You get the point, so I won’t belabor it. Essentially, though, companies are allowed to say they’re all natural, biodegradable, compostable, organic, and more, in the United States without proving it in any way, shape, or form.

Greenwashing Issue #3: Brand Competition

When companies use greenwashing to gain a space on the “clean” or “eco-friendly” shelves, they’re taking that space from a brand who actually deserves to use that label. There ARE brands out there that have worked hard to earn their ethical and environmental merit badges, and they deserve to be supported.

How to Combat It

Read, read, then read again. Look for the ingredients, look to see if it’s certified, run it through the Think Dirty App, make your own products at home, and more!

I personally combat greenwashing by buying from certified B Corp brands when I can. I also combat greenwashing by looking into a company’s environmental statements on their website, and who their parent company is. If I can’t find anything good, it usually means there isn’t anything good to find.

Obviously, you can’t do it all when you’re in Target trying to decide which green label is lying to you the least, but do your best to only bring truly great products into your home and eco-friendly lifestyle.

Thanks for reading, my low-waste friend. Good luck combatting the greenwashing out there!

Follow me on Instagram @LowWasteLottie and subscribe to my blog for more fun facts!

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