What is Greenwashing & What Does It Impact?

The market for eco-friendly products has seen tremendous growth in recent years. As a result, many companies have taken advantage of the movement and have endeavored to brand their products as “green” even when those claims may be a bit of a stretch.

So What is Greenwashing?

It’s greenwashing when a company uses branding or advertising to falsely present their product as environmentally friendly in an attempt to mislead consumers. Consumers purchase those products with a sense that they are making a positive environmental impact when in reality, more damage is being done.

Some green products are actually a wolf in sheep’s clothing. Many manufacturers make claims that a product is green based on deceptive factors or they use attractive packaging that gives consumers a false sense of comfort. Think about that the next time you are at the store. Take a look at the bottles of bleach and notice how many come in containers with a bright green label. The manufacturer’s intent is to have consumers think their product is as healthy and safe as a bottle of vinegar when in reality it still contains toxic, concentrated chlorine bleach.

Here are some things to be on the lookout for when you go shopping.

  1. Don’t be fooled by the pretty nature scene on the label. Any container that is presenting the product in a natural way; but has no basis or reference on the container expressing why is greenwashing their product. Don’t be fooled.
  2. Be wary of broad generalizations. The most common abuse of this is the term “all-natural” found in too many products. You need to read the label – for example, petroleum is found in nature; but it doesn’t mean that you should use it as a household cleaner. Unfortunately, most people unknowingly do.
  3. Abuse of the “organic” term. Another term widely abused by manufacturers is “organic”. It can be found in everything from diapers to cosmetics to produce. The reality is that many non-food products labeled as organic have little-to-no oversight to justify those claims. If you want to learn more about the USDA organic certifications, click here.
  4. Misdirection is another technique used by greenwashing manufacturers. They claim a product is free from chemicals to give a false sense of confidence to consumers. The only problem is that the chemicals referenced may already be banned or outlawed.  For example, a product that boasts itself as free from CFCs is using this misdirection. CFCs have been banned in the United States since the 1970 due to concerns regarding their impact on the ozone. Read the label and ask yourself if what you see makes sense.
  5. Actions don’t match their branding. This is probably the most difficult item to spot and it’s not something you will see when in the store. In this scenario, companies may be producing high quality and environmentally-friendly products. The problem is how those products are produced. For example, we all know that disposable plastic water bottles are terrible for the planet. Companies such as Sigg and Klean Kanteen produce wonderful stainless steel water bottles that can be used again and again. While that is outstanding, both manufacturers will not use recycled materials in the manufacturing process. The result is a great product by a company that has the potential to do more for the environment by using less resources in its production.

Greenwashing Deceives Consumers.

Make no mistake about it, manufacturers use greenwashing in their branding to mislead consumers about the health, natural ingredients, and benefits of their products. Don’t allow yourself to be deceived. Be sure to read the labels and ask questions. If it doesn’t make sense, then something may be wrong.

Greenwashing is bad news for the environment. It gives consumers a false sense of doing good, when they may actually be doing more harm to the environment. That said, there are still many examples of good companies making a positive environmental impact on the world. Don’t let the deceptive greenwashing practices taint your view of the environmental industry overall.

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