What Is Greenwashing? How You Can Recognise & Avoid It

What Is Greenwashing?

Greenwashing is a tactic used in PR and marketing to pose an environmentally friendly image to the consumer.

Companies that greenwash often spend more in advertisments claiming to be ‘green’ than they spend making their products more environmentally friendly. 

How The Term Came To Be

The term ‘greenwashing’ was first named in the mid 1980s by an environmental activist. He found a card in his hotel room which said that reusing his hotel towel instead getting them washed after each use, was a great way to protect the environment. 

Sounds great, right?!

Although, being the conscious consumer he was, he questioned their intentions and did some research. He found that although this was framed as an environmental issue that the hotel could help prevent, other areas in which they ran their business, were not so eco friendly. 

While the hotel gave the illusion of being environmentally conscious, something that would raise its public image, the reality was that the hotel wanted to save money by not laundering towels as frequently as it had before.

Why Is Greenwashing An Issue?

Greenwashing is a not only bad for the environment, but for you too. It encourages consumers to buy a product or service while making them think that they are ‘doing good’. 

Greenwashing Examples

Although it may be hard to spot, Greenwashing is all around us. Here are some examples of campaigns that brands have used in the past. 

Huggies – Pure & Natural Diapers

Huggies Pure & Natural diapers

Disposable diapers are every environmentally conscious parents nightmare. 7.6 billion pounds of rubbish is created from disposable diapers per year, and that is just American babies alone. 

Huggies released a new diaper; the Pure & Natural diaper range. Think: soft, green, and leafy packaging. The description says that the diapers are made from soft organic cotton and are hypoallergenic, as well as containing aloe and vitamin e. What more could you want? 

Although the difference that sets Huggies Pure & Natural diapers apart from regular Huggies diapers is a small organic cotton strip on the outside of the diaper – it doesn’t even touch the baby’s skin. Yep, that’s right. 

Additionally, these diapers contained non organic chemicals such as polypropylene and sodium polyacrylate. Are they so ‘pure and natural’ after all?

FIJI Water – Every Drop Is Green

Fiji Water - Every Drop Is Green

FIJI use plastic bottles which are manufactured in China to bottle their water. The machinery is powered by diesel fuel and they also use “rainforest cardboard boxes” which leads to deforestation in the Amazon.

So how are they helping to ‘reduce carbon emmisions and protect Fijian rainforest? Additionally, how can FIJI Water say that ‘every drop is green’ when the water is packaged in plastic?

Plus, when you think about the health hazards caused by the chemicals leaching out of the plastic bottle itself, then bottled water really doesn’t make sense, no matter what the brand.

Aveeno

Aveeno Daily Moisturising LotionLet’s take a look at Aveeno as a whole. They often use clean green packaging which portrays an eco friendly view. 

Not to mention, the phrases plastered across their products, website, and adverts. 

  • ”Discovering the most effective ACTIVE NATURALS® ingredients sourced from nature and unlocking their power to deliver real skin and hair care benefits for healthier, more beautiful skin and hair.” (sounds natural, right?)
  • ”Bringing communities back to a healthier, more naturally beautiful state.” (amen)
  • ”We use only high-quality natural ingredients.” (Oooh all about natural ingredients)

However, if you look a little closer, you’ll realise that Aveeno’s ingredients aren’t all natural. In fact, many of them are actually harmful to you and the planet. 

Take the Aveeno Daily Moisturising Lotion for example. Some of the ingredients used are: 

  • Dimethicone – a silicone known to cause tumors in laboratory animals
  • Paraffinum Liquidum – AKA mineral oils! Mineral oils come from the petro-chemical industry and are used as a barrier to seal the drawn moisture to the surface of the skin.
  • Benzyl Alcohol – irritating and corrosive to the skin and mucous membranes. This is just 1 of 4 alcohols in this product.

Not so natural after all, hey?

How To Recognise Greenwashed Products

You are probably wondering how to sort out who from who and be able to recognise brands’ greenwashing tactics. When you know how to, recognising greenwashed products isn’t all that hard. Here are our top ways to do so:

Use The 7 Sins Of Greenwashing

These sins come from the 7 Sins Of Greenwashing site, which you can check out here

What Is Greenwashing? How To Recognise & Avoid It

1. Sin of Hidden Trade Off

When businesses label something as eco friendly by going off a small set of attributes, they often don’t look at the bigger environmental issues. An example of this is paper. When you look at all the processes it goes through, and not just the fact that it may have been sustainably harvested, you’ll understand that it isn’t as eco friendly as the brand makes it out to be. 

2. Sin of No Proof

Some companies make environmental claims that cannot be supported by easily accessible information, or any information for that matter. 

3. Sin of Being Vague

A claim that is so badly defined, it can be misled by the consumer. An example is ‘all natural’. Many poisonous substances such as formaldehyde are naturally occurring, however are not eco friendly. 

4. Sin of Worshiping False Labels

Businesses will sometimes put consumers under the impression that they have third party endorsements, when often these don’t exist. 

5. Sin of Irrelevance

An environmental claim that may be truthful but is unimportant for consumers. A great example of this is when companies put ‘CFC-free’ on their product packaging, despite the fact that CFCs were banned in 1987. 

6. Sin of Lesser of Two Evils

This is a claim that may risk distracting the consumer from the greater environmental impacts of the product as a whole. Organic cigarettes are a great could be an example of the Lesser of Two Evils Sin. Yes, they may be organic, but when looking at the bigger picture, you can see how detrimental they are for your health and environment. 

7. Sin of Fibbing

Environmental claims that are false. The most common examples of this sin are products falsely claiming to be Energy Star certified or registered.

How To Avoid Greenwashing

  • Keep an eye out for the above sins
  • Shop with businesses who you can trust, and always do research on them prior if you are unsure
  • Know your certifications
  • Dig deeper before buying a product just because it says ‘natural’ or ‘eco’

I hope that you are now familiar with greenwashing and are able to recognise and avoid it. Let us know about your experiences with greenwashing or if you know of some brands that greenwash in the comments below. 

Brodie

Founder + Blogger

Hey there! I'm Brodie, the passionate blogger behind Ethically Engaged. My mission is to find ethical lifestyle options to lead you in the direction of conscious consumerism. I hope you enjoy coming along this journey with me x

4 Comments
  1. I read this before going to the supermarket last night. I am amazed at how many brands in the supermarket were greebwashing, I would have had no clue beforehand!

    1. It is incredible isn’t it! Before knowing about greenwashing, I would always buy products that weren’t as natural as they claimed! x

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