If you've ever excitedly purchased a "green" or "eco-friendly" product—only to take it home and notice its not-so-clean ingredient list—then you've been a victim of greenwashing.
SO, WHAT EXACTLY IS GREENWASHING?
Greenwashing is so prevalent that it's listed in the Merriam-Webster Dictionary: "Expressions of environmentalist concerns especially as a cover for products, policies, or activities." In essence, it's when brands spend more money, time, and energy on marketing themselves as eco-friendly or sustainable than on their actual green initiatives. Worst of all, companies practicing greenwashing are diluting the messages of ones who are actually trying to create real change.
HOW COMMON IS GREENWASHING?
As interest in a more eco-friendly lifestyle increases, more and more companies are practicing manipulative greenwashing tactics. A report by TerraChoice Environmental Marketing even showed that 98 percent of products labeled "green" are actually engaging in greenwashing! Here are a few real-life examples:
Coke using "natural" sugars to attract more eco-minded consumers
BP gas stations installing solar panels, despite being a major fossil fuel giant
McDonalds switching to paper straws that aren't actually able to be recycled
HOW TO SPOT GREENWASHING
Sneaky greenwashing tactics can often be hard to nail down. Here are a few ways you can lessen your chances of being fooled:
Ask yourself: Does it feel like the company is being transparent? Pretty much no one is "perfect" at being eco-friendly, so if it seems like they're over-promising, they probably are.
Research whether the company is replacing an older, environmentally harmful policy, or if the new eco-friendly initiative will exist alongside it. If it's the latter, it's probably greenwashing.
Read ingredient lists more closely. For example, if you're buying sunscreen and looking for a more earth-friendly mineral version, make sure to check the active ingredients on the back of the bottle. The brand can technically say it's a mineral sunscreen if it includes titanium dioxide and/or zinc oxide, but they might also include oxybenzone and octinoxate, which both severely damage coral reefs.
Find out what recyclable/compostable/biodegradable products are actually made out of, and do your own research about whether the material can successfully be composted or recycled, or biodegrades easily.
Research whether the company has certifications or studies to back up their eco claims.
Check out the brand's promotional graphics. Are they often green, earthy colors with photos of nature? Double check their practices and ingredients to ensure they aren't trying to make you subconsciously think of them as "green."
Google the brand's name alongside the word "greenwashing." You may find blog posts or Reddit threads from green experts or past employees.
Be wary of green "sponsors." Just because a brand sponsors a green event, doesn't mean their own practices are sustainable. Also, it should raise a red flag if a company donates to green initiatives without changing their own.
Our most important tip, though, is: don't forget to trust your instincts. If something feels off, it probably is.