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What is Greenwashing?

Over the past twenty years, people have developed an increasing interest in taking care of the environment, and big companies have definitely caught on. Even if you’ve never heard the term before, you’re probably aware of what “greenwashing” is, because almost every brand is using it in their marketing. Whether it is to try to convince you to buy their product, or trying to make you believe a brand isn’t bad for the environment, brands bait customers with “green” claims all the time. 

So, what exactly is greenwashing? It’s when a company spends more time and money marketing themselves as environmentally friendly than on minimizing their environmental impact. Environmentalist Jay Westerveld coined the term in 1986, a time when most consumers received their news primarily from television and radio, so they couldn’t fact-check claims as easily as we can!

How to avoid greenwashing

Nowadays, it’s pretty easy to fact-check any claims that companies make. Here’s 7 ways to spot greenwashing in advertising: 

1. False claims 

This is especially relevant when it comes to “recyclable” products. Many products label themselves as recyclable and even have an icon that proves its recyclability. However, not all local recycling operations are the same, and your local sorting facility may not be able to handle many “recyclable” materials. 

A great example is when McDonald’s announced it was going to get rid of plastic straws in its restaurants, and offer paper straws instead. The following year, it was revealed the straws weren’t actually recyclable, which made the change pointless. 

On the same vein, most materials are biodegradable. Claiming a product is biodegradable is pointless! On top of that, a product being biodegradable does not mean it will not harm the environment.

2. Vague language and ‘green’ buzzwords

Packages will have labels that mean nothing but sound good. Phrases such as “eco”, “sustainable” and “green” are commonly used by companies to make the business appear environmentally friendly — but these words don’t have an actual scientific meaning. 

If a company cannot actually explain in concrete terms how a product is friendly to the environment, then they are probably greenwashing. It’s also important to keep in mind that an eco-friendly product doesn’t mean the manufacturing process or the sourcing of raw materials aren’t harmful to the environment. 

3. Company ownership 

This might seem excessive to some people, but it just goes to show how far companies will go to sell “green” products. Many times smaller companies are bought up by big conglomerates —which tend to have a high environmental impact— to target unknowing clients. 

This is also a problem with cruelty-free products. For example, most of the products The Body Shop makes are cruelty-free, but it’s owned by L’Oreal, a company that tests on animals. You can easily check which companies are cruelty-free on PETA’s searchable database. Cruelty-Free Kitty has also compiled a list of all cruelty free brands which are owned by companies who test on animals.

4. The “best-in-class” boasts

This one is probably one of the easiest tactics to spot. It consists of promoting a harmful product as a “better” alternative. These are eco-friendly claims on products that are environmentally destructive, like green pesticides. 

5. Made-up certifications

Since consumers are not aware of how many different certifying agencies there are, any company could potentially make up a “cruelty-free” logo. There are three main legitimate certifications that use bunnies: Leaping Bunny, PETA, and Choose Cruelty-Free (in Australia). 

In the United States, the Leaping Bunny certification is probably the most reliable.

6. No proof

Companies may claim “made with recycled materials” or “eco-friendly ingredients” without any verification from reliable sources about these claims. 

7. Irrelevant claims

This is an attempt to make up arguments to sell a product. One example is when products claim to be “CFC-free”. This is completely irrelevant, since CFCs (chlorofluorocarbons) have been banned for over 30 years. 

At Not to Die For* we are very passionate about keeping our products locally sourced and free of useless waste. Check out our lifestyle products in our shop

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