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Greenwashing: Is that Product Really Good For the Environment?

4 Jun 2020

@abillion profile image

mobile with reduce, reuse, recycle logo on its screen

We have a responsibility to care for our planet. As our technological capacity developed and we stepped into the industrial age, we started harming the environment in many ways. In the last couple of decades, we've been able to feel the rise in global temperatures. And so, sustainable living is now becoming more than just a "choice." All of us, individually and collectively, need to ensure that our daily decisions fulfill our requirements without harming the planet.

As individuals, we can influence companies to offer sustainable options by choosing to voice our opinions and opting for greener products. As we do this, we need to be aware that many companies know of their customer's inclination towards buying green and thus tend to market their products as "green" or "environmentally-friendly" to entice people. This is called "Greenwashing".

hand with green paint holding a leaf

Greenwashing

With a rise in the number of consumers opting for green products, we see a parallel increase of companies greenwashing their products and services. Greenwashing is creating an aura of being environmentally friendly. The term 'Greenwashing' was coined by a prominent environmental activist, Jay Westerveld, in the year 1980, in one of his essays. He wrote about the fact that many hotels claimed to be environment-friendly by placing a placard that says: "Save Our Planet: Every day, millions of gallons of water are used to wash towels that have only been used once. You make the choice: A towel on the rack means, 'I'll use again.' A towel on the floor means, 'Please replace.' Thank you for helping us conserve the Earth's vital resources." Westerveld stated that the intention of placing this placard was less to do with saving the environment and more to do with reducing cost. Basically, greenwashing is positioning your products to nudge customers towards the purchase of your product or service by claiming to be environmentally friendly, without making an actual effort to be environmentally friendly.

save our planet hotel card

Over the years, the number of companies that offer greenwashed products has increased as manufacturers have realized that 'green' sells. To avoid being greenwashed, you need to be aware of techniques that the corporations use to attract customers with false claims of being green.

All-natural and fresh labels

You may find products with labels like "100% Natural" or being "Fresh and Natural". At the moment, there is no regulation on what can be termed as "fresh" or "natural," so companies can use the term to their advantage. Many "natural" products may contain ingredients that come from animal sources, as technically these ingredients are also a part of "nature". Some firms even use the term "fresh" to mean food that is made fresh and is then frozen for weeks or months before it reaches the customer.

Official looking logos

Many companies have also resorted to placing self-made authoritative-looking seals, like "Bio" or "100% natural", that look as if they come from a reputed source. However, the product itself may not have these qualities.

Use of green color or natural images

Many companies change their packaging to include more green color. According to the psychology of color in management, green packaging reminds consumers of nature and makes them feel that the product in question is "natural" and thus better.

Least harmful

This strategy is used by companies manufacturing products that are environmentally harmful like chemical-based pesticides, or non-renewable fuels. These products choose to market themselves as the "cleanest" or the "most" environmentally friendly option. These claims may be accurate, but if the product itself harms the environment, does it help that it's less harmful than its competitors?

Fabricated claims

Many companies market themselves as eco-friendly using terms like "CFC-Free", and the consumer is bound to think that such products are most likely "good". However, the company would've failed to mention anywhere on their marketing collaterals that chlorofluorocarbons, or CFCs, have been long banned from most countries. Such greenwashing makes customers think they are making the 'better' choice.

man standing before a green panel in a shopping mall

What can we do to avoid being greenwashed?

These simple tips will assist you in your quest to avoid these tactics.

1. Read those labels

While companies can get away with showing images of nature, they have to add most of the details of the ingredients in their labels. So, skip the imagery and go straight to the labels. Does that "all-natural" product contain ingredients that you've not heard of? Google them, and see for yourself if the claim is true.

2. Be aware of branding tactics

The product's packaging may say it is "good for the environment", or "now even more environment-friendly!". Put on your cynical hat and look for proof of these facts. Look online, you'll find articles and videos of brands that are greenwashing their products and services. Don't believe in anything other than facts!

3. Learn about certifications

Know which certifications are legitimate, so you can weed out the others. Each certification is different. When you see a label you've not seen before, check who is the certifying authority, before deciding if the label means something or not.

What else can we do?

As individuals, we need to be aware of such practices, so we can actively steer clear of such products and services. Of course, there are many companies that are actively developing new ways to be sustainable. Let's support companies that are supporting the environment.

Now, more than ever before, individuals have a voice. Make sure you make yours count!

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Responses

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@vikas profile image
vikas1 YEAR AGO
Great piece. The reality is even knowing all of this it’s so easy as a consumer to be duped with the right packaging and labels.
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@goodvibesonly profile image
goodvibesonly1 YEAR AGO
This has been my biggest pet peeve. Seeing some brands jumping on the sustainable bandwagon, offering ”eco” alternatives but ultimately ending up contributing to more waste.
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@herbimetal profile image
herbimetal1 YEAR AGO
Wow this is a tough one. I wasn't really aware of this before. Glad you brought it up.
REPLY
@alicexyl profile image
alicexyl1 YEAR AGO
Appreciate this informative piece!
REPLY
@abillion profile image
abillion1 YEAR AGO
Thanks @alicexy 😊 we appreciate your support!
REPLY
@heymacarena profile image
heymacarena1 YEAR AGO
Thanks for bringing this topic up! @marthsalt I think you may be interested on this article 👀
REPLY
@veganvedika profile image
veganvedika1 YEAR AGO
Very informative.
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@hgoeseast profile image
hgoeseast1 YEAR AGO
One of my biggest frustrations when travelling is the so called ‘option’ not to have the towels changed everyday, when nearly every hotel I have stayed in still changed the towels that were hanging. I have started to write about it in my trip advisor reviews to raise awareness to management.
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@vuyom1998 profile image
vuyom19981 YEAR AGO
@hgoeseast I work in hotels and I can definitely agree with you there. We still would change guest towels and linens despite
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@dhanhyaa profile image
dhanhyaa1 YEAR AGO
I think another example of greenwashing is the "biodegradable plastic bag".
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@vuyom1998 profile image
vuyom19981 YEAR AGO
@dhanhyaa how did they manage to sell this to us? I remember when this started a few years ago with bread wrapping plastic.
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@vuyom1998 profile image
vuyom19981 YEAR AGO
Great piece. I think next we should explore the whole concept of buying local and how realistic it is. Almost every conversation I have had lately with omnivorous people has been very accusatory towards my eating habits and how they impact the local community ("avocado is bad because of the excessive farming practices that also exploit human labour in 3rd world countries", etc.)
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@abillion profile image
abillion1 YEAR AGO
Hey @vuyom1998, thanks for your suggestion! We'll have a look into the feasibility of buying local for a future article!
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@stellaryellow profile image
stellaryellow1 YEAR AGO
Going vegan has taught me so much when it comes to reading labels and seeing what's actually inside the products we tend to just grab off the shelf without thinking twice! I'm guilty of doing this for most of my life, and I'm proud of myself for taking a closer look now.
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