What is greenwashing? And how to avoid it

What is greenwashing anyway?

Greenwashing is a play on the term “whitewashing”. It’s when a product or brand claims to be eco-friendly but don’t have any proof to back it up. Or just claims to be green but isn’t all that green. 

More often than not these brands spend so much money trying to prove that they are green rather than being green. 

My favorite example of this is now that there are a lot of bans on single-use plastic coming up, restaurants are coming out with “biodegradable” straws. Which sounds fantastic! The marketing makes it sound like after you toss it in the trash, it will break down and disappear.

What they fail to mention is that these straws don’t break down on their own. They can only break down if they’re properly composted. And I have a feeling that not a lot of customers do that. So when these straws are thrown in the trash they’re no better than single-use plastic.

Not only that but it encourages people to skip buying a reusable straw because they think just using the biodegradable ones is eco-friendly. When in actuality it’s not.

See what I’m saying? 

It takes a great deal of research and understanding to be able to detect greenwashing. As in the example I just gave, people will hear something that sounds pretty green and just believe it without giving it a second thought.

And greenwashing is a pretty popular thing. Especially with the world waking up to the climate problems we’re facing. Brands are hopping on board, eager to deceive so they don’t lose customers. 

what is greenwashing

What to look out for:

Buzz words – These are flashy and “green” sounding words that work perfectly to get your attention but usually have no proof of these practices. 

  • Transparency: It seems like a pretty straight forward term but you’d be surprised how often brands use it as a buzz word to gain attention. For a brand to truly be green, they should willingly (and proudly) share where their factories are, how they treat/pay their employees, what materials they use, how they’re sourced and more.
  • Ethical & sustainable: These are great words. Actually, they’re the perfect words because we conscious shoppers are looking for things that are made both ethically and sustainably. But don’t be too quick to believe every brand that uses these words.
  • Natural/organic: Especially when it comes to beauty products and hair products. Nonfood items aren’t regulated very strictly. Meaning these brands (even clothing brands) can slap on an “organic” or “natural”  label without the product even being these things. 

Always double-check their claims – If it seems too good to be true. It probably is. When you see a poster or an advertisement for something claiming to be eco-friendly. Don’t take it at face value. Always head over to heir website to validate their claim. 

Vague, big words – A lot of brands like to use, big words and vague descriptions to make it sound like they know what they’re talking about. It’s nothing but a distraction tactic to throw you off from the point. 

Having little to no info on their sites – It’s a big red flag and a guarantee that a brand is not sustainable if they don’t have ANY resources on how their product is made. Little information can be a red flag as well. Truly sustainable brands will proudly tell you about their ethical and sustainable practices. They should be truly transparent with nothing to hide. 

Distracting images – Brands that are greenwashing love to use green and nature images to give the appearance of being “eco-friendly”. This is another example of not taking things at face value. Like the straws in the example I gave before for instance: a fast food restaurant that uses biodegradable straws may use a poster to show how the straw breaks down.  

Which as we know is just a distraction because that’s not how it works. 

Brands that have “eco-friendly” lines – This is something I 100% fell for when I first started my ethical fashion and sustainable living journey. When fast fashion brands like “asos” or “H&M” come out with eco-friendly or conscious fashion lines it’s always good to be skeptical. 

If this is the way they want to go then they should transition their entire brand into an eco-friendly one. If they know the importance of eco-friendly clothing but keep it limited to just a line that’s a big red flag. 

Another example of this is H&M’s recycling program. (Which I’ve talked about on the blog before because I always thought it was a really good thing! I was wrong.) How it works is you bring in old clothing and they recycle it for you and you get a coupon to buy more clothes.

This is a problem because you just keep buying clothes, “recycling” them and buying more again. Also because they aren’t recycling your clothes, but just shipping them off to third world countries. 

Badges/Certifications – These can both be a sign of greenwashing or a sign of an authentically eco-friendly brand. A brand can claim to be “certified” or “100% organic” and have zero evidence to back it up.

Good badges to look out for are:

what is greenwashing

I know, I know. It seems like so much to be looking out for! And it is! Brands truly will go to any lengths to get you still buy their product. It’s important to be educated and be aware. That’s all there is to it!

I’d love to know your thoughts so please leave a comment down below! 

And as always, please don’t forget to share this post and follow me on Instagram for daily ethical fashion and sustainable living posts!

Other posts you might enjoy:

Why the zero-waste movement isn’t sustainable

How to live sustainably when those around you do not

How to get rid of old clothing responsibly

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