“Green”, “Sustainable”, and “Eco-Friendly” seem to be buzzwords showing up more frequently in the past decade. While it’s promising that environmental consciousness is being brought up as a widely discussed topic, many brands use sustainability as a marketing tactic instead of being truly devoted to the cause. In 1986, environmentalist Jay Westerveld coined the term “greenwashing” to describe the effect of hotels attempting to appear environmentally-conscious through marketing campaigns surrounding their reuse of towels. In reality, these same hotels were hurting the environment in other ways. Today, the term has evolved past hotels and into a majority of industries we see and use daily. The Cambridge Dictionary defines Greenwashing as “to make people believe that your company is doing more to protect the environment than it really is”. We know that no company is perfectly sustainable. However, we do believe every company should do the best with the resources they have to try and leave a minimal negative impact on our planet.
Unfortunately, it is up to the consumer to do their research and understand if products, companies, and industries are actually sustainable. Next time you’re looking to make a conscious purchase, try asking yourself these questions to better spot greenwashing:
1. Are They Being Vague?
It seems as though every time we are out, there is an immense amount of products and services labeled as eco-friendly. In reality, how many of them actually take the time to explain what actually makes them sustainable? Marketers use phrases like “Green”, “All-Natural” and “Cruelty-Free”, among other lingo to give their products a feel-good name. However, it is important to remember that there is no global benchmark that determines what is “green” or not. This means, it’s up to the company to define and measure sustainability in its products and practices. As a result, some brands take advantage of this and label themselves as “green”, when they really aren’t making much of an effort at all.
Before making the purchase, check out the packaging or the company website. Try to spot details of their sustainability goals and initiatives (which will usually have a time frame to be accomplished by – i.e 2030 or 2050.) It’s also good to look out for comprehensive explanations that describe their products and why they are calling themselves eco-friendly!
2. What are Their 3rd Party Certifications?
We mentioned earlier that there is no global benchmark to measure the sustainability of a company. Instead, there are various 3rd party certifications that rank how green a product is depending on the specific criteria these accreditations demand. Unfortunately, just because a product or company claims they have a certification, doesn’t mean they are legitimate. There are many false accreditation programs that award these labels to anyone who is willing to pay. It is up to the consumer to do their own research to see the legitimacy of the certification.
We recommend purchasing from companies who use well-known certifications such as EPA Safer Choice, Certified B Corporations, and Green Seal. LIM Living always tries to source from brands that hold some of the most reputable sustainable certifications, such as The Living Future Institute’s Declare labels, Cradle to Cradle Certification, GREENGUARD Certification, FSC Certification, and WaterSense and Energy Star labels.
If you aren’t sure which accreditations are legitimate for the product you are buying you can use websites like https://spot.ul.com/ or —— as an index!
3. Is the Industry as a Whole Sustainable?
We often see advertisements and labels for companies boasting themselves as being the top-notch green product in their industry. While this may sound like a great accomplishment, it is worth first checking to see how sustainable the whole sector is. You might be surprised to find that the entire industry is actually harmful to the environment. When brands label themselves as being the cleanest choice to buy, consumers feel good about themselves for making this purchasing decision. In reality, this product should likely be avoided altogether. It is critical to do your research to find alternatives to these nonpreferred industries.
4. Are All of their Other Products Green Too?
It is common to see large named brands come out with one product or product line that they label as “green”. The intention behind this is to not only give themselves a preferable name but also draw in consumers specifically looking for green products. While it’s great that corporations are taking the step to develop cleaner and eco-friendly products, it is best for them to holistically change their practices.
Another downfall with this method is that their more sustainable products tend to be priced higher than their staple products. People may be drawn to their green side initially, but end up being swayed by the cheaper option. Companies should be making clean and eco-friendly products more easily available. Before you make your next conscious purchase, do research on the company to ensure that they have an all-around ethical mission!
5. Are All of their Ingredients Clean and Green?
A common marketing tactic is when companies highlight one clean ingredient while dismissing other hidden toxins in the same products. While browsing, consumers might see “All Organic” or “Sulfate-Free” plastered across the shiny packaging, and mindlessly add it into their carts without realizing the hidden undesirables tucked away. Brands need to be transparent with consumers about ALL of the ingredients they are using, not just the ones that people want to see. Though it can be tedious at times, it is worth looking at the entire ingredients list before making a purchase. Not sure where to start in understanding what substances are good or bad? Websites like Non-GMO Project let you search in various industries for specific brands, products, and retailers to see what is a (legitimate) certified organic product!
When we look at these five ways to spot greenwashing, we see a common theme. For better or for worse: as of now, it’s mainly up to the consumer to do in-depth research on a product to understand the bottom-line. Luckily, with these tips in your toolbox, you should be able to more easily accomplish this! Let us know on Instagram how you consciously shop!