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Greenwashing: Everything you need to know

Have you heard the term greenwashing? I was already well into my sustainable journey when I heard it for the first time and it changed the way I shop and how I respond to advertising.

So what is greenwashing?

According to Wikipedia Greenwashing is defined as “Greenwashing (a compound word modelled on “whitewash”), also called “green sheen“, is a form of marketing spin in which green PR (green values) and green marketing are deceptively used to persuade the public that an organization’s products, aims and policies are environmentally friendly.”

Once I learnt about this term I started seeing it everywhere!! Living more sustainably is a hot topic at the moment as more and more people start demanding products that are kinder to the environment. People are also starting to become more aware of how their products are made and what ingredients are used. Brands are being asked to be more transparent and in response they are making all sorts of claims that include words like “recycled”, “natural”, “environmentally friendly” and “sustainable”. But when you dig a little deeper you discover that it is more greenwashing than change in behaviour or process.

The idea behind greenwashing is that companies spend a lot of time, effort and money trying to convince their audience that their products are environmentally friendly when in fact nothing much has changed.

For example.

A few years ago when the plastic straw was front and centre, brands stopped using plastic straws. But they were replaced with options that were often just as bad for the environment and were still serving take away drinks in plastic containers with plastic lids. Their marketing focused on “we have banned the straw” so it looked like they were making sustainable moves, but where they really?

According to Sustainable Jungle: Starbucks’ straw free lids were made of more plastic than the previous straws and lids combined.

Recently I bought an outfit that had a tag on that said “can be recycled” – upon further investigation they were referring simply to the tag! So basically they were highlighting the fact that the paper tag could be recycled. People just see the word recycle and associate it with eco-friendly and sustainability but they seldom look further.

A big brand recently launched a campaign showcasing their new recyclable packing on ONE of their many product lines. It looks pretty cool but the packaging was always a box, so should have always been recyclable. Also as a whole the company is still the 3rd largest plastic polluter in the world! It really was such a glaringly obvious example of greenwashing but people buy into it.

This image did the rounds a while ago – it was pretty blatantly greenwashing. This is a very extreme case of greenwashing but it does highlight the point really well. I am sure a few people actually bought the product thinking that the bottle was actually made from paper.

Image Source

I have bought a few products thinking they were “green” products only to discover that actually they are not as green as their claims would like me to have believed.

So what do you do?

Basically you can’t believe everything you read.

When you see a claim by a brand or on a product, take a few minutes to do a little research. It is always a good idea to learn a little more about the company as a whole – what are they doing across their organisation to become more sustainable? If they are simply slapping labels on paper items saying “Recycle Me” then you might want to consider another brand that is making bigger, more lasting changes.

I am not going to be self-righteous and say we only buy from green, sustainable brands because there are a few things I have not found alternatives too yet and we can’t really do without them (eg: washing powder, toilet paper, toothpaste). But I am trying to make changes wherever I can. We are at a point now where I know the source of 80% of the items we bring into our home.

When you buy from small, local businesses it is a lot easier to find out where their products come from because they often source from local famers or manufacturers, so the process is a lot more transparent. The smaller brands also tend to be more open about where they get their products from, so you can make a more informed decision about whether or not you want to buy form them.

I also find I am now a lot more wary of bigger, corporate brands who suddenly start advertising their sustainable brands or products. I always go and do a little research to check whether it really is natural or if it was really sustainably made.

I suppose the point really is to be aware of what you are buying, take the time to do a little research so that you are making an informed decision.

And don’t assume if it says it is green that it is in fact green!


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