Greenwashing: How Can We Identify It?
Updated: Sep 28
Written by: Hannah Cambre
In this post, we talked all about what greenwashing is and why it’s a problem. How, then, are we to identify greenwashing?
Checking the labels on a product is a quick way to spot vagueness and false advertising. The Ecolabel Index is a comprehensive directory that lists all recognized ecolabels with explanations of the certifications backing them. This makes it easier to identify products that are (or are not) produced in accordance with environmentally-oriented regulations. Buyers who know what to look out for can make more informed, environmentally conscious decisions by avoiding companies that make baseless claims about supposed “certifications” that are not, in fact, legitimate.
Another easy-to-spot red flag is catch-all terms like recyclable, biodegradable, green, or eco-friendly. These are used to create the impression that a product is designed with the environment in mind. However, many of these products are no different from other, non-greenwashed products! A company can claim its product is biodegradable if it breaks down under very specific conditions that are not likely to be present when the consumer actually disposes of the product. A product that is supposedly “recyclable” may have parts that are, on their own, able to be recycled, but will not actually be processed once they reach a recycling facility because the different layers of packaging make it too time-consuming to effectively sort the materials. Terms like “green” and “eco-friendly” are also suspect and mean next to nothing without corresponding data to back them up.
Also look out for products that claim to be “green” but put the burden of sustainability on the consumer. For example, consider an organization that is notorious for its environmentally harmful production process. Instead of deciding to make changes in the way products are made, the company instead creates a recycling campaign so that buyers can help the environment by keeping their products out of landfills. While the company can pretend to be environmentally conscious by encouraging recycling, they still harm the environment by not making changes to the process that is creating pollution and emissions to begin with. To make matters worse, many companies that encourage consumers to recycle their products make little effort to ensure that these products can actually be effectively recycled.
In all of these instances of spotting greenwashing, the most important thing to do is recognize the tactics the manufacturer is using to manipulate the consumer’s opinion of the product. Once you know what to look for, you can more easily take action.
An awareness of greenwashing is beneficial in creating a more sustainable world that expects transparency from the companies contributing most to environmental degradation. What’s important to note is that nobody is perfect-- we are not “bad” people if we sometimes buy products from companies that are known for their lack of environmental consciousness. While we cannot expect to be perfectly sustainable in all things at all times, what we can do is educate ourselves to become more conscious consumers who make an effort to do our part to protect the earth.