No, Greenwashing isn’t a method for cleaning your vegetables! The term refers to clever yet misleading marketing and wording to make you (the do-good, environmentally-conscious consumer) perceive that a product is sustainably produced or environmentally friendly - when it’s really not.
And, believe it or not, the term dates all the way back to 1986.
In recent years, 73% of consumers say they would most likely change their consumption habits if it reduced their impact on the environment. In addition, studies show consumers are willing to pay more for a product if it is sustainably produced. These two factors create a ripe opportunity for clever marketers to grab the consumer’s attention with pretty packaging and strategic wording. You believe the product is good for you and the environment, so you put it in your cart, feeling good about yourself. Feeling good thinking you’re doing your part.
HOW TO KNOW GREENWASHING WHEN YOU SEE IT
At first glance it’s often difficult to know when you’ve been “greenwashed.” While I hesitate from making a blanket statement, as I research the vast interwebs, it seems many of the companies falling into the “greenwashing” category are larger or large corporations, investing money in making you believe their product is good for the environment rather than creating a product that actually is.
Claims like “organic,” “eco-friendly,” “all-natural” sound promising and legitimate, but they can be vague and often rely on loopholes in labeling regulations - such as in the beauty industry. These companies rely on your trust, and you not having time or interest to research and fully educate yourself.
Because, why should you have to?
According to UL.com there are seven “sins” of greenwashing.
• Hidden Trade-Off
This form of greenwashing occurs when a company suggests that a product or process is “sustainable” based on only one or two attributes, while ignoring other important environmental or sustainable characteristics.
• No Proof
Sustainability claims without proof cannot be substantiated by easily accessible supporting information, leaving it to a buyer to determine the validity of the claim.
Some sustainability claims are so broad or so poorly defined that their real meaning is likely to be misunderstood or misinterpreted by a buyer.
• False Labels
Some companies use images, words or logos that imply third-party endorsement of their sustainability characteristics, even though no such endorsement exists.
Other sustainability claims may be truthful and accurate, but are unimportant or unhelpful for buyers attempting to evaluate competitive products.
• Lesser of Two Evils
In this case, a specific sustainability claim may be true but risks distracting a buyer from more significant sustainability aspects of a product or process.
• (Straight Up) Lying
Some claims of social or environmental sustainability are simply false or inaccurate.
EXAMPLES OF GREENWASHING
Tide Pur Clean
SIN: Lesser of two evils.
This one is a slippery slope. Admittedly, I even fell for this one. The label front and center advertises Plant Based (Their website says 75% plant based, which is true), and is USDA Certified biobased. However, with further research biobased means chemicals derived from plants or animals but can still be considered toxic. According to EWG.org this product grade is a F. In addition, there is no mention of how the packaging was created; recycled plastic/paper? Be weary of the claim…1st- plant based detergent - in big bright bold red lettering, then in smaller lettering below - with the cleaning power of Tide. Note: the product still contains chemicals found in other Tide laundry detergents.
SIN: Hidden Trade-Off
Firstly, this product comes packaged in a plastic bottle. Already not a good start for the pricey water. A lawsuit was brought against the company for claiming "they remove more carbon pollution from the atmosphere than they release into it." It seems they merely take credit for carbon removal that may or may not take place in the future - called "forward crediting".
Additionally, 12% of the Fiji residents do not have access to clean safe drinking water and the company has not followed through on a plan to reduce carbon emissions and have only half fulfilled a promise to plant natural forests.
Late last year, the company announced a commitment to have all plastic bottles made from recycled rPET by 2025.
DAWN DISHWASHING LIQUID
SIN: (Straight Up) Lying, Lesser of Two Evils.
Cute fuzzy baby chicks and a campaign showcasing their commitment to saving wildlife. Their claim to have donated hundreds of bottles of their product to clean cute, innocent oil-soaked animals cleverly distracts from a product that is not cruelty-free and contains environmentally toxic ingredients (“aqua toxicity”)
According to the EWG, Dawn received a “D” grade.
In addition, this product comes in a plastic bottle.
I began noticing a change in packaging for many products. Aveeno recently revamped their "Active Naturals" packaging, removing those words as a result of a lawsuit stemming from those very claims. Even Fiji changed their labeling and wording.
This post is not intended to shame, in any way shape or form, for purchasing any of the above, or similar products. It is meant as a tool for awareness, to be informed and not blindly trust the pretty pictures of corporate America.
……Remember, the onus is on the consumer, not companies, to heal our planet.