What is Greenwashing?

Hopefully by now you’ve at least heard the term “greenwashing”. But what is it? Why should you care and why is it important to your zero waste journey?

1. What is greenwashing and why should you care?

Greenwashing - Plastic "eco" cups

Greenwashing is a PR tactic and marketing tool used by corporations to make people believe that a company is more environmentally responsible than it actually is. According to Wikipedia, “Greenwashing is a form of spin in which a company or organization presents an environmentally friendly image through advertising and marketing while engaging in environmentally harmful activities.” It is about portraying an artificial image of an organization’s environmental or sustainability commitments. Greenwashing is typically done by exaggerating the environmental performance or by creating misleading messages that are designed to trick consumers into thinking that an organization has a responsible environmental policy.

Greenwashing is done with the intention of deceiving consumers or other stakeholders, typically to promote sales or other business interests. Many companies use this technique so they can increase profits, ignore environmental concerns and essentially continue business as usual.

There are many forms of greenwashing – allowing companies to advertise themselves as being “green” but are not actually following sustainable practices.

2. Examples of Greenwashing

Greenwashing - produce bags

  • Using organic or sustainable ingredients in their products but still using disposable, plastic packaging – there are easy ways to avoid this kind of wasteful packaging
  • Making a sustainable commitment but not following through or keeping the commitment
  • Marketing a product as recyclable while that product is only recyclable in a very limited or inaccessible way

3. How can you tell when something has been greenwashed?

So how can you tell when something is being greenwashed? What are the signs that lets you know when you are being tricked into thinking that something is more environmentally friendly than it actually is?

First thing I always do is a gut check. Does a company’s claim sound too good to be true? If so, it probably is or at the very least leads to my seconds step, further investigation. A quick search can usually produce some solid sources to support or contradict any claim a company may be making. This is an important step in truly understanding whether something is actually a solidly sustainable product or service or if it’s just being greenwashed to make it appear that way.

At the end of the day, whether you choose to buy a product or service is up to you and voting with your wallet is one of the most powerful tools we have to drive change. Making a conscious effort to find, buy and use those products that are actually sustainable instead of those that are only sustainable in the claims they make can really help influence others to make their own products or services more eco-friendly.

4. What are our biggest lessons learned when trying to identify greenwashing?

Sustainability, zero waste and eco-friendliness are all popular trends that companies are trying to exploit and cash in on. It’s important to realize this when you’re shopping for a new sustainable product or service. Wherever your zero waste journey takes you, keep in mind that spending a little time to research and then using your wallet to vote are key aspects in driving broader change.

I was definitely worried about the time it would take to research and find all of these zero waste products but I realized there are many sources available to find answers quickly and effortlessly. The pre-curated non-greenwashed items on this site is just one example of a resource you could utilize to find items that are living up to the sustainable commitments they are promising instead of just market fluff.

Greenwashing is a big issue in the corporate world and we have to remain vigilant that the products we use are what they say they are and that the commitments the companies we buy from are actually achieved and not just empty promises.

Looking to reduce your environmental footprint or the amount of plastic in your life? Check out our store for recommended items that can help you on your zero waste journey.