Greenwashing is the term used to describe a company's attempt at seeming "greener" than they really are. Releasing "eco-friendly" products has become a marketing trend, and it's important to be able to differentiate between what's good for the environment, and what's greenwashing marketing. With new terms such as "eco-safe", "sustainable", and "all natural", we need to be more attentive to the products ingredients, the company's carbon footprint, and watch out for these so called "sustainable" products that are nothing more than a marketing ploy.
Here are some of the signs you need to look for when deciding whether a company or product is greenwashing, or actually eco-friendly.
1) The Hidden Tradeoff
While some products claim to be environmentally friendly, they may only be addressing one environmental issue through their product, while ignoring others. For example, paper towels made from recycled materials might be seen as being eco-friendly, but in reality it is still a single-use product that takes a lot of resources to produce, package (usually in single use plastic), and distribute. Doesn't it make more sense to buy reusable cloth towels that you can use for years at a time?
While there's no such thing as a completely eco-friendly product, we should try to buy products that minimize their effects on the environment.
2) No Proof
Companies who greenwash will often include baseless claims on their packaging without proper certification or sources to prove their claim. They may include numbers such as statistics, or even percentages without including a source. Make sure to research the company's website or read the fine print to see if they can back up the claim they've made. If not, chances are they're greenwashing! Sometimes a company can source a scientific study, but it's important to be aware of who financed the study. Some of these studies are also financed by the companies themselves, and so they might have bias.
Vague claims can make it seem like a company or product is eco-friendly, when in reality they're misleading consumers. What does it really mean to be eco-friendly? Does a company just say they're "all natural" without explicitly proving how? By making broad, generalized statements about their products, companies are able to mislead consumers, and get away with greenwashing. Look for certifications and details before buying into the vagueness of "all natural" products.
4) False Labels
Some company's greenwash by using green coloured or organic imagery in their packaging. The consistent use of these colours implies an environmentally friendly product, when it reality, it is meant to mislead consumers. They may also add imagery that look like certifications, but are not. Make sure to verify certifications and look for valid claims before purchasing green products solely based imagery.
This type of greenwashing includes making claims that are truthful, but are also irrelevant. For example, many aerosol products claim to be CFC-free. CFC's cause ozone depletion, so while it's good that a product no longer uses it, it is also expected, seeing that they've been banned in Canada for over 20 years.
Another example is for products that are compostable. Products can be industrially compostable, or at-home compostable. If a product is industrially compostable, it needs a lot of energy to compost, and if your city - such as London - doesn't have city-wide composting, then it is irrelevant because you won't be able to compost it at home.
6) Lesser of two evils
Some products will try to make you feel "green" for buying them, but the category of the product itself is rooted in ecological problems. If you can avoid these products altogether, that would be the best.
For example, as previously mentioned aerosol products will claim to be CFC free, but they still have various toxins that cause harm to human bodies and other living beings.