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What is Greenwashing? And How To Avoid It

I’ve been seeing many posts about greenwashing everywhere on social media lately so I thought I’d take the time to explain to you all everything you need to know about greenwashing. It’s something that everyone needs to be aware of so they can avoid it and call these companies out. It’s important to care about the environment and to do what you can to protect it. Greenwashing is just one more obstacle that you will need to look out for and overcome.

What is Greenwashing?

Greenwashing is essentially a marketing scheme where a company claims to be sustainable and eco-friendly but isn’t. They pay money to advertise themselves as sustainable and eco-friendly. They are able to exploit your emotions to buy what they are selling so they can continue to exploit nature and workers as usual.

It’s easier for them to pay to advertise the product as sustainable instead of paying and working towards achieving truly sustainable goals.

Why is it a problem?

People like you and I are trying to become more conscious consumers by buying products that are better for our health, don’t harm the environment, and are cruelty-free. More and more people are choosing to buy eco-friendly products since ecological challenges are becoming more pressing.

Unfortunately, companies have found a way to exploit those good intentions. They convince consumers that their product is amazing and that it was was ethically and sustainably made.

The reason greenwashing is a big problem is because more individuals are contributing to the climate crisis, plastic pollution, and animal cruelty without even realizing it. The company makes more profit and the consumer is happy to buy more from them, meanwhile, workers and nature are exploited.

It’s not the consumer’s fault by any means. All the blame goes on the company. But there are things you can do to stop yourself from being misled by these dirty companies and become a truly conscious and sustainable buyer.

How To Avoid Greenwashing

So how are we supposed to know if a company is lying to us or not? Well, there are a few things to look out for:

01. Read the label

A label can hold a lot of information. Reading the small print will give you an indication of whether the item is eco-friendly.

02. Read the ingredients

I would say this is one of the most important parts to look at. Knowing what ingredients (and where they come from) is a sure way to know if the product is sustainable. If there’s an endless list of ingredients, for example, it probably isn’t as ‘natural’ as they claim. Also, a big one to look out for is unsustainable palm oil.

03. See where it was made

Check what the country of origin is. I’ve seen some labels where the place where the raw materials come from, where it’s manufactured, and where it’s actually sold are different countries (and often far away from each other). This cannot be sustainable because of the sheer amount of carbon emissions that are released into the atmosphere.

04. Look out for certification

There are some third-party certification labels to look out for that will show you if the company is lying to you or not. Some of the most important labels to look out for are:

  • FSC (Sustainably sourced wood)
  • Fairtrade
  • RSPO (Sustainable palm oil)
  • Non-GMO Project
  • GOTS (organic cotton)

Here are some more certification labels you need to be aware of.

05. Watch out for ‘eco-words’

There are many words that suggest that a product is good for the planet. Some of these include:

  • Eco-friendly
  • Natural
  • Biodegradable
  • Non-toxic
  • Green

The list goes on. However, these terms don’t have any real, legal meaning so companies can use them without getting into trouble. Even if the product has one natural ingredient in it, they can put in big letters ‘natural’, even though it could also contain many toxic chemicals. It’s these misleading claims that you need to keep your eye out for.

06. What company is it?

There are companies that are harmful to the environment but release one product that is eco-friendly and suddenly become sustainable in the eyes of the public. Even if that one product is actually green, don’t support a company that is polluting and destroying the natural environment. Some famous examples are McDonald’s, Coca-Cola, and H&M.

07. Look for proof

If a company doesn’t support their claims, they are probably not true. How transparent are they? Basically, how much information is the company giving you. If they are not giving away too much, it’s very likely they hiding something shady.

08. Do research on the company

Before heading over to the store or purchasing something online, do a thorough search on the company. Know what you are buying and where you are putting your money. Don’t support companies that are only doing harm to the planet.

what is greenwashing

What to do when you spot it

First of all, don’t buy their product. Don’t support dirty companies that are causing harm to people, animals, and the environment. So when you find a company that you believe is greenwashing then avoid them completely.

Second of all, contact them. Send them a message on social media or email them. If the company gets enough complaints and emails about people’s concerns, it’s possible they could take action and do something about it.

Last but not least, tell others about the information you have found and tell them what companies to avoid. Make those around you aware of who is greenwashing and try to educate them on how to spot it themselves.

Examples of Greenwashing

Nike – Nike started a campaign called ‘Move to Zero‘ where they aim to go carbon-zero and zero-waste. If it sounds too good to be true, it’s because it is. Nike does not have any plans to do this. It’s more of a hope than a target to them.

Ryanair – Ryanair said that they had the lowest carbon emissions in Europe compared to other major airlines. However, this was inaccurate and misleading information and just another form of greenwashing.

H&M – This fashion brand claimed to have plans to make their clothes more sustainable. However, no fashion brand can be sustainable if it updates its inventory every week throwing away most clothes in landfills and producing tonnes of carbon emissions. H&M is a fast fashion brand and fast fashion can never be sustainable. They did little to nothing to make themselves more sustainable.

Also Read: A Full Guide To Sustainable Fashion Design

Conclusion

Greenwashing deeply concerns me and it should concern you too. We already had the problem of companies exploiting the environment but at least everyone knew that. Now, not only are they hiding the fact that they are destroying the planet, but they are going as far as to say they are doing good.

This is outrageous behavior and we can’t keep funding them. Closely look at what you are buying and be fully aware of what the company is doing and how the item was made exactly. It’s the only way to become a conscious consumer.

All images from Unsplash

About Sofia Hadjiosif

I've always cared about the planet but never knew how I could use my skills to create an impact. But that's when I decided to start Terra Movement. To get other creatives involved in the climate movement and inspire more people to help the planet and its people.

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