Greenwashing: How to Spot it and How to Stop it
Hi legacy-makers, it’s Emily!
With a rise in demand for sustainable products, companies are eager to showcase their efforts to help protect the planet. However, this increase in demand has also brought about “greenwashing”. Environmentalist, Jay Westerveld, coined the term greenwashing in the 1980s defining it as, "a behaviour or activity that makes people believe that a company is doing more to protect the environment than it really is". As consumers seek to support businesses that align with their own environmental values, some businesses may not be truthful in their efforts. But how can these non-truthful efforts be recognized? In this article, we will be exploring how greenwashing can be spotted and avoided.
1. Lookout for Vague Terms
It is easy to label a product as “natural” or “eco-friendly”, but what do those terms actually mean? Vague claims such as these, with no evidence to support them, are examples of greenwashing. Even the term “organic” does not necessarily indicate that the product is better for the environment. For instance, peanut butter made with all-natural organic ingredients may still use palm oil. The farming of palm oil is well kn
own as a major contributor to deforestation and animal extinction. Meaning that the term holds little merit for consumers who prioritize sustainability. It is important to look out for terms such as these and understand what they truly signify.
2. Take a closer look at the Parent Company
Often, a large company with a not-so-green reputation will market a niche product as being sustainable. Although one product can show concern for the environment, it is still important to consider the company as a whole. The parent company may be a major contributor to environmental destruction despite a single-product effort to be sustainable. It is important to support brands that are honest with their sustainability efforts and reflect these beliefs through multiple products.
3. Critically Evaluate the Product’s Presentation
Using nature images, or green-coloured packaging is greenwashing if illustrations are not supported by evidence. A picture of a tree, or a cute animal does not signify that a company is environmentally friendly. For example, Fiji water plays on nature-based marketing with its tropical illustrations on its packaging. Fiji water claims to be “earth’s finest water untouched by man”. However, it is still a single-use plastic water bottle. The false nature of its environmental imagery and nature-based claims are examples of greenwashing.
Consumer awareness of greenwashing is the primary force for change. By continuing to think critically and evaluate product claims, greenwashing can be avoided. (When possible) placing your dollar with companies that truly support social & environmental causes will move the needle for change. Honesty is the most important policy and when companies intentionally mask their environmental impact consumers deserve to be upset. Greenwashing prevents us from genuinely supporting the environment and working together. So, remember to shop responsibly and stay vigilant!
If you want an anti-greenwashing guide that can further help you ask the right questions and critically evaluate organizations, here is a great guide to consult