Hello! Welcome to this blog post written by the lovely Ellie from Greensplained. This post is all about what greenwashing is & how we can avoid being greenwashed so I hope that you find it useful!
If you’d like to learn more about this topic, I have a podcast episode on Greenwashing in Fashion which is linked below. Happy reading!
“All that glitters is not gold! …And all green sheen is not environmentally friendly.”
As conscious consumers, we can change the world. Every time we make a purchase, we take a vote with our wallets. And who we give our money to determines who stays in business. This concept is incredibly empowering since it eliminates the need to rely solely on politicians and other decision makers to make our future better.
The same goes for those of us who fall into the subcategory of environmentally-conscious consumers. We don’t have to chain ourselves to trees or block rail tracks in order to make a difference. But what if our green consciousness makes us vulnerable to misleading marketing? What if companies try to make their products and business practices sound greener than they are? Read on to learn how to become more resilient to this type of consumer deception, termed greenwashing.
What Is Greenwashing?
Greenwashing as a business practice has been around for as long as the environmental movement itself. The term was originally coined relating to hotels that asked their guests to use towels prudently for environmental reasons, when the real motive was increasing the hotel’s profit margin. Meanwhile, these same hotels did nothing to lighten their footprint in other ways (e.g. through energy conservation). The word greenwashing has since been expanded to describe anyone who puts more effort on touting their environmental superiority than on actual improvements. An example I’ve been coming across a lot lately is when businesses urge consumers to ‘buy local’, yet the products they offer are produced in far-away countries.
The effect this type of false marketing has goes beyond the affected product. It frustrates consumers and makes them wary of any company making claims about their environmentally conscious practices, including those that are genuine. This undermines our wallet-voting power and hinders change towards true sustainability.
How to avoid greenwashed companies and products
Identifying greenwashing and avoiding greenwashed items and brands starts with being an informed customer. Stay up to date about environmental issues and learn about the real impact of typical production processes. For example, making sustainable choices when buying clothes is much easier if you know about biodegradable fabrics, the toxicity of dyes, and the effect of leather tanneries on aquatic wildlife. This type of knowledge enables you to think critically for yourself, instead of relying on labels and slogans to guide you.
Next, incorporate life cycle thinking into your decision making as a consumer. This means to consider the environmental impact of all aspects of a product, from natural resource extraction, to the eventual disposal. Cars make for an easy example: If you must drive, it would – theoretically – be best to always drive the most efficient car on the market, which would mean buying a new car every year or so to make immediate use of new technology as it becomes available. In reality, a huge part of a car’s environmental footprint comes from its manufacturing and recycling – not just from driving. Life cycle thinking makes it clear that efficiency has to be weighed against longevity, and that it usually only makes sense to dispose of cars when they are either very old or disfunctional. Car manufacturers, of course, try to convey the opposite in their ads – most infamously Volkswagen who promoted the low tailpipe emissions of their cars before being caught in the Dieselgate scandal.
The one fast track to avoiding greenwashing without doing lengthy research about every company you intend to purchase products or services from, is to rely on trustworthy third-party certifications. The emphasis here is on trustworthy, as there are plenty of industry-funded labels and awards that are largely meaningless. An excellent certification that stands out is B Corporation certification which covers many different aspects of environmental and social stewardship.
Be a part of the resistance
Greenwashing is a disheartening and, in my opinion, unethical practice – but very widespread. It is althemore important for consumers like you and me to be informed and wallet-vote only for those products that align with our own values.
I would love to hear from you. Let me know below, where you come across greenwashing in your life and how you spot it!
About The Author
Hi, I’m Ellie! I’m a sustainability coach and waste reduction advocate. I write about all topics related to a sustainable lifestyle and environmental action on my blog Greensplained.com. You can follow me on Instagram and Facebook to stay up to date on everything Green!