As more and more of us wake up to the climate crisis we are in, we look to make ethical choices when shopping. However, when something is popular, there is money to be made. Because big companies know that we want ethical and green goods, they know we will buy items that claim to be good for the planet.
However, instead of actually creating ethical goods, companies have begun to do something very insidious. Enter: greenwashing. This is the phenomenon of misleading consumers about products, claiming they are ethical and green when they really aren’t.
So, what can you do in order to spot and avoid greenwashing?
What Is Greenwashing?
Greenwashing is defined as making ‘people believe that your company is doing more to protect the environment than it really is‘. It can manifest in a variety of ways, and sadly some companies will greenwash without realizing they are doing it.
Have you ever picked up a pair of jeans in a store that claims to be ‘made from recycled materials’, but they don’t tell you how much of the product is actually from recycled goods?
Do you notice airplane adverts on the television that claims that you can make a flight, but feel good about it because it has a ‘carbon offset scheme’?
This is greenwashing, and it is becoming a huge problem in consumerism. Companies know that we want ethical goods, and believe that we will lap up anything that they tell us. However, they don’t realize that consumers are smart and can see through their lies.
- Vagueness – when a company uses terms such as ‘ethically sourced’, or ‘sustainable’, but does not explain how.
- Hidden trade-offs – when a company mentions something green about their product but fails to mention all the unethical stages in the process of making the product.
- Baseless claims – when a company claims to be green but has no proof to back it up.
- Lies – when companies simply lie about how they make their product.
Greenwashing is everywhere right now, so what can we do to fight it?
How Do You Spot Greenwashing?
Once you learn how to spot greenwashing, it will become a part of your consumer habit. I first learned about greenwashing a few years back, and now it is always on my mind when I am shopping. Every green claim I see, I question it and research the facts.
In order to spot greenwashing, you must be suspicious of everything. Remember, big companies don’t actually want to save the world, they want to make money. They want to make you buy their products.
Here are my greenwashing red flags to look out for.
What Language Is Used?
When wanting to spot greenwashing, pay attention to the words and phrases that companies use. Phrases such as ‘pure’, ‘natural’, ‘eco-friendly’, and ‘earth friendly’ don’t actually mean anything but are constantly used in advertising.
A company will describe its product as ‘sustainable’, even if only a small amount of the product is made from sustainable materials.
In order to work out if the language being used is greenwashing, look at the contents of the product and seek a third party that can back up the claims of the company.
A lot of these words used are not actually held to a scientific standard, and this means they can be used freely in advertising.
What Kind of Imagery Is Being Used?
Companies who greenwash love to use green and natural imagery in their advertising in order for you to think they are eco-friendly.
An advert depicting trees and flowers will always feel more earth-friendly than an advert showing us the factory where the product is made, right? Companies know this, so will pour a whole load of money into making adverts that bring the feel of sustainability, without actually doing anything sustainable.
Using earthly colors for their packaging is another greenwashing trend, so look out for beige tones, browns, and green colors when buying products.
Do They Claim They Have Carbon Offsetting Schemes?
Carbon offsetting sounds pretty eco-friendly, right? But, what does it actually mean?
Carbon offsetting is when a company or government attempts to remove emissions of CO2 in the atmosphere in order to compensate for the CO2 emissions they are creating. For example, in 2020, the airplane company JetBlue pledged to become carbon-neutral on all their US flights by paying into carbon offset schemes. Their schemes include forest conservation and landfill gas capture.
However, many environmentalists believe that carbon offsetting is not actually tackling the issues of climate change. According to Greenpeace, a newly-planted tree can take around 20 years to capture the amount of CO2 needed to make these carbon-offsetting schemes actually work.
What Company Are You Buying From?
Many huge companies release ‘eco-friendly’ ranges but will not tackle their own eco-footprint. Fashion and beauty brands are particularly bad at doing this. The clothing company Primark has recently launched its Primark Cares campaign, claiming that 39% of its products are made of recycled or more sustainable materials.
But, this claim itself is vague. What does ‘more sustainable materials’ even mean?
Furthermore, Primark as a whole definitely does not have the best reputation for being eco-friendly and ethical. They make poor-quality fast fashion that is not built to last, and clothing waste is said to now make up 30 percent of the waste in council tips in the UK. Plus, Primark continuously outsources the manufacturing of its products, which means they do not have responsibility for workers and labor issues.
How To Avoid Greenwashing?
Consumerism is rife with greenwashing. So, what can you do in order to avoid it? Here are my tips on how to avoid greenwashing when shopping
When a company greenwashes its product, it will not include third-party verification of its claims. This means that, when you want to avoid greenwashing, it is useful to check out any certifications the product might have.
Third-party verification means that an independent organization has reviewed the company and its products and deemed them to be eco-friendly or sustainable.
Certifications that back up green claims include:
There are loads of other certifications to spot when shopping! Have a look at the Ecolabel Index for a full list of labels.
Research the Company
Before buying a product, research the company and its history. A quick Google search will provide you with all the information you need in order to work out if a company is greenwashing or not.
Are they actually working hard to be eco-friendly? What schemes and certifications do they have? Do they have a bad history of harming the planet?
I will always turn to the Good On You Directory. This is a fantastic tool that has rated thousands of popular brands on their sustainability claims. By searching the company on their directory, you can see if its eco claims are true.
Use Your Common Sense
Ever heard the phrase, ‘if it’s too good to be true, then it probably is’? You may have found a very fashionable pair of jeans in a store for a ridiculously low price that claims to be ‘sustainable’. But, does something feel off? How can eco-fashion cost the same as fast-fashion?
The simplest explanation is probably the truth – these jeans are fast-fashion with a greenwashing label.
When shopping, use your common sense when it comes to greenwashing. Always question the claims that companies make, and know that greenwashing is super common.
Look For Things That Can Be Recycled
Many companies that greenwash are not really doing their bit to help the climate crisis we are in. They may sell products that are ‘organic’ or ‘sustainable’, yet cannot be recycled.
When buying a product, check if the packaging can actually be recyclable. If the company really cares about being eco-friendly, it will make sure its packaging is minimal and 100% recyclable.
Be Mindful About What You Are Buying
One of the easiest ways to avoid greenwashing is to buy fewer things. Reusing what you have and cutting back on things that you don’t actually need means that you are avoiding the risk of greenwashing.
Shop with mindfulness and intention. When going to the stores, make sure you are aware of the issues around sustainability and greenwashing, and be mindful when purchasing goods.
Now we know exactly what it is, we can name and shame the companies that have greenwashed their products in the past. By knowing the companies who have done it, we can be wary of buying from them in the future. We can also learn how to spot greenwashing by looking at how these companies did it.
So, what are some recent greenwashing stories that have made the headlines?
Airline Companies – KLM
The airplane company KLM got in trouble earlier this year for their greenwashing advert. They claimed that their carbon offset scheme is ‘creating a more sustainable future’. However, environmental groups have claimed that this kind of scheme does nothing to actually limit the airline’s effect on the planet.
Airplane companies are the most obvious greenwashing companies as, let’s face it, there is nothing sustainable about airplanes!
Fashion Companies – H&M and Adidas
It is not just travel companies that are causing outrage with their greenwashing claims, either. Big fast fashion brands are just as bad with their misleading claims. H&M has been under fire recently as their so-called ‘Conscious Range’ actually contains more damaging synthetic materials than their main line.
Adidas made false and misleading claims last year about their Stan Smith trainers. They claimed that their trainers are ‘50% recycled’, however, they were pretty vague about what actually is recycled and if the shoes themselves are recyclable. I had a look at the products on their website that are supposedly ‘made with recycled content’ and there was no further information about this on the product descriptions.
Food and Drink Companies – Innocent
Ahh, Innocent Drinks. Even their name is greenwashing. The smoothie and ‘natural’ drinks company still uses one-use plastics in their products, and are actually owned by Coca-Cola. You know, one of the biggest plastic polluters in the world. Doesn’t sound that innocent, right?
Innocent Drinks got in big trouble earlier this year by releasing a cutesy advert claiming that they are ‘fixing up the planet’. The advert got banned pretty quickly, but it does show the lengths of greenwashing that some companies will go to.
Alternatives For Greenwashing Companies
Thankfully, there are some good companies out there that actually care about the planet. That’s refreshing!
Let’s look at some alternative companies to shop with that don’t greenwash their products.
Lucy & Yak
This fashion company is famous for its bold prints and dungarees. Lucy & Yak is doing a lot right when it comes to the production of their clothes, with 98% of their products being made from organic or recycled materials.
They are also pretty transparent about anything not so good that their company might do – with a ‘nothing is perfect’ section on their fabric and dyes web page.
BEEN London is big on recycling. They turn waste into accessories that you will use again and again. They use recycled leather, recycled cotton, and recycled polyester in their products.
They also have a load of third-party certifications that you can find here.
Birdsong makes all its clothing in London by employees who earn above the living wage. This means you can shop with confidence that the people who are making your clothes are being looked after by the company.
They are also proactive in sourcing the best eco-friendly materials for their clothing. By using Tencel, organic cotton, and reclaimed fabrics, Birdsong is reducing their impact on the planet.
The mission of Wholesome Culture is to inspire people to live a sustainable and mindful lifestyle. This sustainable clothing brand uses ethical and recycled materials in its products, and all of its products are shipped in biodegradable or recycled packaging.
Wholesome Culture also loves to donate profits to organizations that are close to their hearts. 10% of their profits are donated to environmental organizations that are helping the planet.
Their products are all made with plant-based natural ingredients, too, which means there are no preservatives or chemicals that are harmful to ourselves and the planet.
Axiology Beauty creates simple and cruelty-free makeup products that are kind to your skin and mother nature. They are against animal testing and don’t use harmful chemicals, with a list of all their ingredients in full on their website.
They are also very aware of how rife plastic waste is in the beauty industry. This means that they are 100% plastic free in all their products. Oh, and they also make these amazing multi-use products that can be used on your eyes, lips, and face. Fewer products mean less waste!
Avoid Greenwashing and Shop Ethically Today!
Greenwashing is a pretty disturbing trend. It means that companies lie and deceive us, without actually making the changes that we need to see in the world.
However, by knowing exactly what greenwashing is and how to spot it, you are able to shop ethically and without worries! Next time you are out shopping, keep greenwashing in mind. Can you spot any companies greenwashing their products?