Green Washing: What is it and how do I avoid it?

by Kate Hall September 08, 2018

Green Washing: What is it and how do I avoid it?

Greenwashing: the art of misleading consumers to make them think a product or service is environmentally friendly, when in reality, the company is using more resources on manipulating consumers, than actually applying green practices in their business.

Greenwashing is observed when consumers choose the shampoo bottle with green leaves and labels, instead of the purple one, or when a shopper ignores the ingredients list on a box of crackers, because the word ‘organic’ is proudly printed in bold letters.

Greenwashing is everywhere. Greenwashing sucks. Greenwashing has fooled us all.

What is the problem?

Consumers don’t deserve to be misled in their buying decisions, particularly those going out of their way to make conscious environmentally friendly purchases. But the effects of greenwashing span further than the feeling of deceit. Greenwashing makes something that hurts the environment, appealing to consumers.

Katherine of Going Zero Waste shares a brilliant example of greenwashing at its best:

A grocery store ran an extensive campaign, promoting how ‘green’ they were, because they recycle plastic bags. This created a demand for people to use their plastic bags. However, the best solution for the environment would be not to have plastic bags in the first place.

Greenwashing also supports consumer scepticism, making it difficult for companies who are legitimately doing good, to share their message to consumers without hesitation. Once consumers have experienced greenwashing and realise how prevalent it is in the media today, there is risk of them giving up on their green living habits altogether. Why support eco-friendly companies when they may not be telling the truth?

Like all marketing tricks, greenwashing can be identified and avoided.

What is greenwashing

How to avoid greenwashing:

  1. Don’t be fooled by the stats

If you’re presented with an awesome claim or statistic, fact check it. Hop on google and have a hunt around to see if the statistic is true. Companies are clever at re-wording statistics and using terminology that works in their favour, to win us over. Big claims that sound unrealistic or too good to be true, are the ones to look out for.

  1. Ignore the baby pandas

Imagery of cute fluffy animals, picturesque landscapes that look unreal, and over-the-top smiling humans, are generally the go-to signs of greenwashing. If the product is associated with baby pandas being healthy and cute, then surely it’s good for the planet, right? Nope. Greenwashing is known to pull on your heart strings through emotive colours and images. The ‘cheese’ factor, and cliché images you’ve seen several times before, are tell-tale signs for a brilliant greenwashing campaign.

  1. Wishy-washing language

Terms such as ‘pure’, ‘organic’, ‘natural’, ‘degradable’, and ‘green’, are brilliant to hear, but mean nothing without certifications. Regardless of the reality of the product or service, a company can throw these words anywhere without doing the hard work to have their product legitimately certified. They’re simply words to make your conscience feel better as you buy the product. Look out for certification stamps and symbols, and research them before you sit comfortably with your purchase.

  1. Go with your gut instinct

Ads are thrown at us every second on our computer screens, mobiles, and televisions. By now, we’ve all developed an internal gut feeling that helps guide our consumer decisions. Go with it. If you’re feeling ‘iffy’ or conflicted about the messaging, look deeper. Perhaps email the brand to ask for more information, or find a review from a source you trust.

  1. Look at the whole picture

If a company is trying to sell you a moisturiser in an awesome recyclable bottle, don’t let your hunt for information stop there. What’s the moisturiser made from? Is there another option for a refillable bottle instead? Greenwashing can involve excessive promotion of one green aspect, to mask the downfalls of another. Never stop asking questions.

The rise in awareness of our impact on the planet, and our environment’s vulnerability, has pushed companies to implement greener practices. Hooray! Although this is an encouraging development, the growing fad and ‘coolness’ of shopping ‘eco-friendly’ has meant companies also use this to their advantage, and drive sales through clever green marketing techniques.

Do your research before you buy, don’t be conned by cuddly lambs, watch out for wishy-washy language, and stick to your gut. Your consumer ethics are unique, and it’s ultimately up to you where you put your money.

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Kate Hall
Kate Hall

Author

Kate is a word smith, kombucha addict, serial smiler, and zero waste enthusiast. She believes life's too short to think of yourself as one tiny person who can't make change. Slow fashion and green living are what gets her up in the morning, and her hand-raised bird will forever be found nuzzling into her shoulder.



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