Navigating Sustainability & Greenwashing

As consumers, we have the power to vote with our wallets. We can choose to support organizations that employ fair trade and sustainable practices, and avoid supporting organizations that employ environmentally harmful practices.

Unfortunately, many organizations have taken the demand for environmentally sustainable products and services as a mere marketing ploy, and will utilize language that will allow the consumer to believe that their products are better for the environment than they actually are. This is commonly referred to as ‘Greenwashing’ and can be incredibly harmful as it is misleading consumers & stripping from their power to choose.

Due to these shady practices, the onus has been unfortunately put upon the consumers to make wise choices. Here are a few ways you can spot greenwashing.

Vagueness in language

Companies will often trick its consumers into believing that their products are sustainable by employing language that is filled with buzzwords. There is no legal precedence to the use of words like ‘Natural’, ‘organic’, ‘earth-friendly’, ‘naked’, ‘pure’, ‘non-toxic’ and if the product does not explain how they fulfil that criteria, it is best to stay away from such products.

Green packaging

Don’t be fooled by appearances. Just because the packaging of a product  is green, or filled with references to nature, it does not mean that the product is environmentally friendly. Ironically, green happens to be one of the more polluting dyes.

Green certification.

if you see a logo or label stamped on a product which brands it as organic or sustainable, make sure it’s a legitimate certification which has been vetted by a reliable third-party, and not a self-created one. Organizations can create their own green certification templates and the criteria for certification can be really vague.

Token products

A lot of brands will have a token eco friendly product that they use to mislead consumers into thinking that the entire line or brand is environmentally friendly. Always question what percentage of a brand is sustainable. A single sustainably produced product does not reflect the values of the entire brands.

Lack of clear information.

If a brand claims to be environmentally conscious, or any other adjacent claims, but refuses to provide any information as to what that entails, it is best believed that the brand is using the claim as a hip marketing tool, as opposed to any true focus on sustainable practices.

While all this information can make navigating sustainable consumption stressful, it is not that difficult to spot a greenwashed product. With some help from google, you can easily learn if a product is greenwashed. The environmental working group has a crowdsourced consumer guide that helps you understand which brands are practicing greenwashing. The EWG healthy living app, as well as the Think Dirty APP can help you understand what products are truly sustainable.

References:

What is Greenwashing? How to Spot It and Stop it

https://medium.com/disruptive-design/what-is-greenwashing-how-to-spot-it-and-stop-it-c44f3d130d5

Greenwashing – Definition, Seven Sins, and Examples

https://corporatefinanceinstitute.com/resources/knowledge/other/greenwashing/

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