How To Avoid Becoming a Victim of Greenwashing

Jan 18, 2023 | Sustainable Living

What is Greenwashing?

Our social culture has been moving towards learning to live as organically and environmentally friendly as possible. Sadly, even those with the best of intentions can very easily become a victim of greenwashing if they are unaware of what it means for a company to “greenwash” their products. In order to avoid purchasing a greenwashed product and supporting the companies who try to slyly advertise in this way, it is important to know what “greenwashing” really means.

In 2021, GreenPrint conducted a research study and found that 64% of Americans are willing to pay more for environmentally friendly products, and 73% consider environmental friendliness as a factor in what they will purchase1. As more people are cleaning out products in their homes and searching for healthier alternatives, companies are catching on and creating products that seem to better suit their customer’s desire for greener products. Their products begin to appear more environmentally friendly, with healthier, more natural ingredients that are better for you. However, upon closer inspection, the ingredients are the same as before, and their “eco-friendly” promise is not elaborated on the product itself, or on their website. This is what greenwashing is. It is creating a product that looks environmentally friendly, non-toxic, and natural – but is intentionally misleading, and not nearly as natural as it seems.

Greenwashing Methods to Watch Out For

With more and more people willing to pay an influx of money for and seeking out these environmentally friendly products, companies are catching the eye of consumers by deceptively advertising their products as green. Oftentimes, these “green” products also cost significantly more than the alternative, even though they are just as toxic for consumption and for the environment. It is important to watch out for these marketing schemes when shopping for eco-friendly products:

  • Pledging to be “green”: many companies will claim that they are eco-friendly, environmentally sustainable, and non-toxic on the front of the product. Just because it claims to be a “clean” product, does not mean that they have anything natural and environmentally friendly in the product. It is important to research every product before you purchase it, even if it is in the “natural” aisle in your store.
  • Naturistic design: another way to appear to care more for the environment is to display green designs, with trees, animals, and flowers. Displaying a product with these designs next to products that do not have nature designs is an easy way to mislead consumers into believing they may be purchasing the more “environmentally friendly” product.
  • Hidden tradeoffs: some companies may be donating a portion of their money to a good cause, and advertise this openly, but may also be damaging the environment excessively behind the scenes. So while you may be purchasing a product that “saves the bees,” the product itself may be poisoning the earth with pollution in other areas. Every company advertises the good of their product; very few will be open about the negative impact the production of the product may cause.

These are a few of the ways that companies greenwash. Even those with the best of intentions when purchasing goods will slip up and buy a product that may not be as healthy as advertised, but if you consistently research your consumed products before purchasing, eventually having a knack for finding the most environmentally friendly products will become like a second nature to you. Gaining an understanding of what greenwashing is and how to avoid it is the first step.

Purchasing the “Greenest” Products

After scouring the supermarkets and finding very few truly “green” options for your use, you may wonder how to find products that actually are “eco-friendly” and “sustainable.” There are some labels you can look out for while becoming accustomed to sustainable shopping:

  • The ENERGY STAR: this label being on a product means that the product was produced in an energy efficient manner, which results in emitting less pollution into the earth. An extra bonus when purchasing products with this label is that you will save money on your electric bill, so it is a win-win for the environment, and for your wallet.
  • USDA Organic Seal: on applicable products such as food and cosmetics, having the organic seal on the product is a great way to decide if the product is more environmentally friendly. In order for a product to meet this qualification, it must have 95% of its ingredients be certified organic.
  • The Green Seal: this label means that the product meets certain non-toxic qualifications. This seal is often used on cleaning products, and means that the chemicals used are safer, and the output is less harmful to the environment.

Other simple ways to reduce your environmental impact can be to,

  1. Purchase products that will last. The “next best thing” is usually not worth it. Purchasing an electronic device that will be outdated in just a year or two can be harmful to not just your wallet, but to the environment, too. Landfills are filled every year with products that could have been held onto for much longer, but were instead traded in for something “better”.
  2. Using less plastic is another simple way to become more eco-conscious. Instead of putting fresh produce into plastic bags, purchase reusable produce bags and grocery bags.
  3. Purchasing products in bulk form is another way to lessen your environmental impact. Less packaging and less trips to the store save you money and time, while also using less gasoline for your trip and less product packaging.
  4. Purchase locally. This is an understated way to reduce negative environmental impact. Purchasing organic, locally made products is a great way to build connections, too.

Environmentally Friendly Doesn’t Have to be Difficult

The best products are the most natural and environmentally friendly. But with deceptive marketing schemes and confusing labels, it may seem difficult to transition to a greener lifestyle. Being able to identify the tricky schemes that greenwashing companies may use is the first step. Research is a handy tool that everyone has access to, and using this skill is a great way to take control of the products you use. Your home will be more sustainable in no time, and the smallest steps are not small for the environment, nor are they small for your health.

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1 “Business of Sustainability Index.” GreenPrint. (2021): https://greenprint.eco/wp-content/uploads/2021/03/GreenPrint-Business-of-Sustainability-Index_3.2021.pdf

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