There’s a lot of buzz around the words sustainable, ethical, natural, and environmentally friendly. With more focus and demand for sustainable practices, less sustainable companies are capitalizing on a decades old marketing tactic —greenwashing.
Greenwashing convinces consumers that the product they’re buying is environmentally forward when it isn’t. Although it’s been around longer, the term was coined back in 1986 by New York environmentalist Jay Westervel. Jay wrote an essay about the hotel industry’s practice of leaving cards in guest bathrooms, asking clients to be more environmentally minded and save water by reusing towels and linens. He argued that companies were presenting themselves as environmentally forward, all the while engaging in unsustainable practices. And so we have greenwashing.
Greenwashing is easy to spot once you’re aware of the tactics, which we’ve all fallen for at least once. To save you some of the frustration we’ve been through, here are five ways to spot greenwashing.
Beware of packaging.
Particularly the colour green, which our eco-conscious minds will naturally gravitate towards...and they know it. See the colour of the packaging as an invitation to look deeper and read about the product. It might actually be sustainable, or it might be a marketing ploy.
Some companies use eco-friendly packaging as a form of greenwashing. Recyclable and compostable packaging is great. But it doesn’t mean much if it’s coming from a company that’s mass-producing cheaply made clothes overseas. When it’s attached to unethical practices, it’s not sustainable.
Look out for buzzwords.
Sustainable, natural, farm-fresh, eco-friendly, green, vegan, and consciously made all catch the attention of the eco-conscious consumer. You can spin any word to mean anything. Vegan doesn’t mean environmentally friendly. Natural doesn’t always mean sustainable. And of course that t-shirt was made “consciously” by definition. Keep an eye out for what a company is claiming and check to see if their actions are lining up with their words.
Read the labels.
If you’re pulled in by earthy tones and earthy words, look deeper to see what’s actually going on before you buy it. Greenwashers know exactly how to set the bait for an eco-friendly, conscious, sustainable, all-natural, farm-fresh individual... 😉. Scour that product to make sure it is legit.
Look for certifications.
If there’s a lot of talk and no transparency, take that as a red flag. We see this in fast fashion all the time. Companies have a “conscious clothing” line, but they won’t put their practices out in the open. When a brand truly cares about their environmental impact, they’ll show more than buzzwords on labels. They’ll talk about their practices and their goals. They’ll have certifications in place or will be moving towards getting them.
Some certifications to look for:
It is important to note that certifications are expensive and not all sustainable businesses are able to get them. A lack of certification doesn’t always mean that the company is greenwashing. If you’re curious, contact the company. Many will be happy to talk about their practices.
Trust your instincts.
If something feels off, trust your instincts then follow up with some research. Often when it feels too good to be true, it is. Our gut is the best guide.
The more greenwashing we see, the more it proves that ethical and sustainable products are being demanded. We are here to support true sustainable practices and have no shame in calling out misleading marketing tactics. During the process of wading through greenwashing, we’ll become more intentional consumers and learn how to help others be their best sustainable selves.
Jade is a writer, potter, and gardener living in a sleepy town in Northern Ontario. They love growing food, creating functional stoneware, and hermiting with a book as much as possible.