What is greenwashing and how is it hurting the environment?

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Companies are going green, and that is a trend I absolutely love! What I don’t love is how their claims are often any colour but green. Buzzwords like ‘eco’, ‘natural’, ‘organic’, ‘chemical-free’ are frequently just that: empty, catchy words. This is called ‘greenwashing’. Let’s get into it.

What is greenwashing and how is it hurting the environment?

Cambridge Dictionary very clearly defines greenwashing as “making people believe that your company is doing more to protect the environment than it really is” or “an attempt to make your business seem interested in protecting the natural environment, when it is not”.

Investopedia goes into it even further with an example: “companies involved in greenwashing behavior might make claims that their products are from recycled materials or have energy-saving benefits. Although some of the environmental claims might be partly true, companies engaged in greenwashing typically exaggerate their claims or the benefits in an attempt to mislead consumers.

Basically, we are victims of greenwashing when companies try to convince us into buying a product thinking it is environmentally friendly, when it actually isn’t.

Science shows that 66% of global customers (me included) are willing to pay more for sustainable brands. Let’s make sure we choose the right ones?

How can I identify and avoid greenwashing?

This can be a challenge. Sometimes greenwashing claims can be pretty convincing. However, there are 4 types of more frequent greenwashing. Knowing them can help you identify the next time you are being tricked into buying something the planet doesn’t want you to.

1. Environmental imageries

Carton packaging, the use of the colour green and drawings of leaves or animals are all pretty classic greenwashing moves.

Although the packaging is important, remember: what really matters is on the inside. Don’t let the outside fool you!

2. Misleading labels

A product is ‘certified’. “Great, must be nice”, you think. But what does that certification even mean? Don’t let simple words such as ‘organic’, ‘natural’ or ‘certified’ trick you. Always look for supportive information.

3. Hidden trade-offs

A great example of these hidden trade-offs is fast fashion. Clothing brands can claim to be using ‘organic’ and ‘recycled’ products, but then produce the clothes in polluting conditions. Look for more than buzzwords. The amount of water needed, if they use renewable energy, greenhouse gas emissions, etc.

4. Irrelevant claims

I am sure this has happened to you too. Reading ‘free of *weird chemical name*’ on a label and thinking “woooow, great!”. Full disclosure: I don’t even know that much about chemicals in the first place, and maybe you don’t either. Often brands make those claims with chemicals that were not needed in that product or are even legally banned in that country. Completely irrelevant information to print on a label.

How is greenwashing hurting the environment?

Our planet is being greatly affected by our rampant consumerism of basically everything, but especially single-use products. Comfort and self-indulgence have become more important than the greater good: stopping global warming and keeping the Earth alive. Single-use plastics are a good example of this. The green wave has brought upon a war against plastic. If you wonder why plastic is bad, you can read the blog we have on the topic. 

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Many biodegradable or compostable alternatives to plastic have been created, but these are often even more harmful than the original versions. People continue being misled by these claims, which are frequently nothing more than cheap greenwashing.

Another common greenwashing channel is the zero-waste lifestyle. This is the way to go, don’t get me wrong. The problem is that many brands keep on pushing falsely green products that we ‘absolutely need’ in order to go follow a low waste lifestyle – but they are often completely irrelevant. These claims are probably the ones that hurt the most: people are trying to help the environment by changing the way they live and end up consuming a bunch of things they didn’t need in the first place just because of greenwashing. If you are starting out, read this zero waste guide before buying anything new!

What can I do?

First of all, thank you for being willing to do something about this! Small actions can have a big impact.

As consumers, every purchase we make is a vote towards the world we want to see. If we all refuse to buy a greenwashed product, the brand has no other choice than to stop selling it.

The main advice I can give you is to keep your eyes wide open! Be skeptical of green claims, especially when they come from big corporations who mass-produce. And remember: the most environmentally friendly product is the one you already own.

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