Here’s a hypothetical situation: you’re at the shop and are staring at the wall of cleaning products, trying to decide which one you buy. You see that one brand has an enviro friendly label on the bottle! You keep buying this brand because it claims to be great for the environment, but do you check? No, because they have the sticker so it should be legit… right? Wrong! You then find out that that brand has been greenwashing their customers to improve their sales. Then you see this article by The Blue Scientist explaining what greenwashing is and how to spot it… but if only you read it sooner!
Greenwashing is a term to describe a companies false claim to be environmentally friendly or “green”, either with is products, policies or intent. This is usually a marketing tactic used by many companies in the hopes it will get them more sales. Lying about being green is a horrible thing for a company to do and if caught, will have great backlash from the community.
There are nine ways that companies can greenwash, but I’ll only take you through the most common.
This is when a company makes a claim about being environmentally friendly, but they haven’t explained what that definition means. It will sound good to the consumer, but is too general. A popular example of this is when a product has the phrase non-toxic on it’s label. This needs more clarification, for example, it may be non-toxic to touch, but can be toxic when ingested. Another one is the phrase all-natural. Many things come from a natural source, but that doesn’t mean they are good for you!
If a company makes a claim about it’s product, it is meaningless unless it can be backed up with proof. This proof needs to be easily accessible to the consumer, and if the company wont share their evidence, then it is almost guaranteed greenwashing.
The Red Herring
This is the most common form of greenwashing. It happens when a company just promotes a specific part of their product because it is green, whilst ignoring the other parts that could cause an overall negative impacts. For example, if a product boasts about the recycled plastic used to make their product, but not take into account the amount of carbon emissions that making their product actually produces, which overall produces a negative affect.
This is one of my favourites, purely because it shows what we will believe if it sounds fancy enough! A company might write “No CFC’s” on their label. CFC stands for Chloroflurocarbon, and are a major contributor to greenhouse gasses. Although it may be true, it is irrelevant because CFC’s have been banned since 1987.
Now that you know a little more about greenwashing, here’s what you can do about it! The main thing to keep an eye out for are eco labels. These can be super helpful or the source of greenwashing. The labels that you want to look out for are those certified by independent third parties. Here are the labels that you can genuinely trust in Australia, all others I would be a little skeptical of, and many do a little research before purchasing the product.
Image from: CoolAustralia.org