Greenwashing, when companies present products as more eco-friendly than they are, is a problem that has surfaced recently. With the general public becoming more aware of issues related to climate change and pollution, there has been an increase in demand for low waste, eco-friendly companies. Companies see this as a profit motive.
Sometimes, this involves using trendy buzzwords like “vegan”, “organic,” “nontoxic”, “simple”, “plant based,” “green” or “all natural.” (Many other nature adjacent words are also used.) Other times, it’s as simple as putting something in green packaging because according to color psychology, consumers will see it and think it’s eco-friendly.
It could also include making recycled products with unethical labor practices or sweatshops or exaggerating the truth.
The H&M textile recycling program, something that I used to consider a good initiative, is the perfect example of greenwashing.
They say that all the fabrics they collect are either recycled and turned into new garments, or donated to charities like thrift stores and shelters, but according to a video essay by Sarah Hawkinson, they ship over 99 percent of the textiles they receive to dumps in developing or “third world” countries.
Boxed water is another good example. People believe it’s better than bottled water, but it is not biodegradable, since it’s made of cardboard and plastic, and it’s also not recyclable because of that.
Bottled water is actually better than boxed because it can be recycled.
We’ve all seen the Dawn dish soap bottles with cute fuzzy ducklings or other baby animals with the slogan, “Dawn helps save wildlife,” as it donates to help clean up animals after oil spills. However, the soap contains an antibacterial agent, triclosan, that is toxic to aquatic life. Many environmentalists are starting to call for a ban on triclosan.
Many consumers are willing to pay more money for a product that they think is ecofriendly or environmentally friendly. This is a problem because companies are profiting off the consumer’s good intentions and unawareness of the greenwashing trend.
Many of these products make claims that are not backed up or are only partially true. Products can be labeled “plant-based” because they don’t have any animal products in them and still have potentially toxic or harmful chemicals in them.
Some burgers made of half vegan meat and half beef are labeled as “plant based” as well, simply because they’re half made of plant products.
One way you can avoid buying greenwashed products is looking up more information about products online.
Many of the claims companies make can easily be debunked online. Additionally, keep an eye out for companies that use a lot of trendy buzzwords, excessive green packaging or promotions and a heavy amount of nature imagery.
This sort of marketing is done to trick consumers into thinking a product is more sustainable than it truly is. Keep in mind that if a claim seems too good to be true, it probably is.