What Is Greenwashing? Learn to Spot Truly Sustainable Brands
Greenwashing is when a company pretends to be eco-friendly despite using toxic ingredients and unsustainable practices to manufacture their product.
When a company engages in greenwashing, they effectively influence consumers to believe that they’re working towards saving the environment when they’re not. In fact, companies that go to great lengths to create a greenwashed marketing strategy are sometimes covering up their lack of environmentally friendly products or processes. They are interested only in improving their sales and making more money, and they do so by projecting a green image and deceiving conscious consumers.
It should be noted that some companies greenwash their products accidentally. Misinformation surrounding sustainability is so widespread that companies can get the wrong idea about what's sustainable and what's not. Although there's no excuse for large corporations with hefty research budgets, smaller companies sometimes think they're being eco-friendly when they're not.
Why do companies use this marketing strategy?
The short answer is that companies who deliberately use this strategy do so to attract more customers and increase revenue.
Over the past couple of decades, there has been a shift toward holding companies accountable for their carbon footprint and environmental impact. At the same time, consumers have become more conscious of their impact on the environment. Naturally, conscious customers try their best to buy environmentally friendly products when possible.
There isn’t currently a lot of regulation around sustainable terms such as: natural, green, eco-friendly, and environmentally friendly. Any company can include green colors and imagery on their products and use terms such as natural. Therefore, it’s usually easy for brands to attract well-meaning consumers and improve their sales.
Another reason for companies using this marketing strategy is to stand out from their competitors in the market. They promise the consumers that their product is more efficient, saves more power, or is sustainable. In response, many people start purchasing from them believing that they are helping the environment.
Many companies see this green agenda as an opportunity to gain a competitive advantage, especially because “natural products” are usually priced higher. Particularly when shopping on-the-go at the grocery store or mall, consumers don’t have time to research every single product they put into their cart. And with good reason! Unless you only buy from trusted brands, it’s hard to distinguish between the truly sustainable products and the fake ones.
Examples of Greenwashing
A very common example of greenwashing is when a company rebrands as natural or eco-friendly. If a company changes their name, logo, or slogan to appear greener without actually changing their business to be environmentally friendly, then chances are it's an attempt to greenwash. Food companies, cosmetic companies, and household product manufacturers are often seen involved in greenwashing.
Another example of greenwashing is when a company labels its products with buzz-words and meaningless statistics.
Have you ever seen one or more of the the following descriptions on a product?
- "99% naturally derived"
- "100% recyclable"
- "Made with natural ingredients"
While these things all sound great to the conscious consumer, these phrases don't mean anything.
Single-use plastic can be 100% recyclable, but it isn't sustainable or eco-friendly. Many chemicals are naturally-derived, yet are still harmful to the environment. Food, cosmetics, textiles, and more can all be made with "natural" ingredients, but that doesn't necessarily mean they're inherently healthy or environmentally friendly. Lastly, most things are biodegradable, but that doesn't mean it's okay to dump them in a landfill.
Impact of Greenwashing
Greenwashing is unethical. False green claims have a negative impact not only on consumers but also on the environment. Let’s look at some of the problems that arise because of greenwashing.
Encourages Uninformed Decisions
The most important danger of greenwashing is that it misinforms people, leading them to make wrong decisions and contribute to unintended environmental harm. Customers, without knowing if a company’s eco-friendly claims are genuine or not, act unsustainably, and make an uninformed decision.
Harms the Environment
Greenwashing harms the environment and public health. When consumers are unable to understand the false practices of a company and they decide to buy from a greenwashing company, they contribute to the growth of that company.
Their support gives such companies more revenue and they continue with their greenwashed marketing and non-environmentally friendly products. Many companies that use greenwashing are often found to be using toxic ingredients in their products or using unsustainable practices such as excess water usage, causing unnecessary air pollution, or producing toxic run-off. To stop this, consumers should look into what they are buying and support the company only if they are genuinely working towards protecting the environment.
Harms Genuine Brands
Apart from harming the environment, greenwashing also causes trouble for companies that are genuinely working towards saving the environment. This happens because greenwashing breaks consumer trust and consumers start suspecting all brands, even those that are working hard to produce environmentally friendly products. The reputation of true eco-friendly companies are hindered, making it difficult for them to gain significant market share.
How to Identify Greenwashing
Unfortunately, it can be hard to know if a company is greenwashing or not. It is important for consumers to be educated and aware about which companies and products are truly green and which are not, but this takes time and a lot of effort.
However, there are some things you can look out for that might help you make more informed decisions. Here are a few tips:
- Many companies use specific phrases like natural, sustainable, organic, healthy, vegan, etc. to attract consumers. The use of such words gives the impression that they are eco-friendly and green. However, be skeptical. You should read the information provided by the company on the packaging material, label, and website. The only way to know about the product is to read the label carefully.
You should know what common products are inherently not eco-friendly: PVC, triclosan, microbeads, aerosols, phosphates, and chlorine bleach are just a few toxic materials that companies use while still marketing themselves as safe and natural.
Product imagery that depicts natural scenery is also a tool used by many companies to deceive potential buyers. Consumers should be aware not to be fooled by pictures of fruit, nuts, farms, or any other natural-looking imagery on the labels of the product. Using a particular image does not represent the true sustainability of a company’s products.
Besides using earth-centered imagery, companies also using earthy tones to promote a natural vibe. They use greens, browns, and blues instead of bright and flashy colors while packaging their products. This is to lure the consumers who are drawn to earth-friendly products. However, consumers should remember that greens and browns don’t necessarily imply that the product is earth-friendly.
Ways to Verify Sustainable Brands
These days, the number of environmentally-conscious buyers is growing.
If you find it hard to obtain information about a company’s factory or production details, there's a chance that the company is greenwashing or it has something to hide.To verify the sustainability of a brand, you should try to find out more and more about the way a company operates.
Here are some things you can look out for:
- Don't trust everything that a company shares or says if they don't have evidence to back it up. There is a possibility that the company is sugar-coating their information or spinning the truth.
- Try to find out about the company’s supply chain, their production facilities, the employees, working conditions, contractors, etc.
- Evaluate the logistics of the product. If a company is claiming they're sustainable, but they're still using single-use plastics...you know something is off. Look for the trademarks of true sustainability such as zero waste practices and/or materials.
- For textiles and household goods, check the material and quality of the product. For food and cosmetic products, check the ingredients and learn more about the production processes of common ingredients. For example, "palm oil" sounds relatively unproblematic, but is actually one of the greatest drivers of deforestation.
- Ask tough questions! Even true eco-friendly companies are not perfect, but they'll be happy to answer your questions and show you how they're willing to improve.
If you really want to avoid giving business to companies who are intentionally greenwashing, you'll need to screen your purchases carefully. Keep an eye out for harmful ingredients, materials, and production practices. When you're informed, you can spot fake eco-friendly companies much more easily.
Continue to read labels and always think about the entire product lifecycle - all the way from the sourcing of materials all the way down to discarding, recycling, or reusing the product.
Greenwashing needs to be stopped and we need to hold companies accountable. Let’s continue to do our part by becoming conscious consumers and buying environment friendly products.
To learn more about our sustainability efforts here at LaFlore Paris, please read our Eco-Friendly Promise. Please feel free to contact us at any time if you have more questions. We'd be happy to hear from you!