More and more consumers are looking for products that are not only effective, but beneficial for the environment. This trend has caused companies to create more sustainable products for the market. Some companies are attempting to mislead consumers they are being environmentally conscious when their products actually aren’t. This process is called “greenwashing.” It’s possible to avoid greenwashed products: with some thought, you can make sure the products you choose fulfill your needs and benefit the environment.
What is Greenwashing?
The term “greenwashing” comes from the idea of whitewashing, where flaws are painted over to give an appearance of being fixed without actually being fixed. One of the most common tactics for greenwashing is literal — think of how many “green” products have green packaging or pictures of trees to support “green” claims. While these are pretty pictures, they are not a guarantee the product itself benefits the environment. Companies often greenwash when they use terms such as “all natural”, “green”, and “environmentally friendly” without certifications or additional explanations. Other companies add claims that sound great, but lack any real meaning. Statements such as “CFC-free” or “No hormones” sound promising, but CFCs and hormones have been banned from certain consumer products for some time. In this case, the company is advertising they are following the law instead of offering innovative benefits.
How You Can Avoid Greenwashing
To be more discerning about products, it pays to do a little thinking about what the words a company uses actually mean. As with the examples above, vague claims are a good sign a product is greenwashing without providing benefits. Another example of vague wording is when companies claim percent numbers, such as, “50% more recycled content” and, “25% more natural.” These claims are vague because they don’t show what the “improved” product is compared to — without a baseline, these claims can’t support an improvement.
“Recycled content” by itself can be misleading; as this can refer to when consumers recycle or the company claims what they’ve always done counts as recycling. For example, a paper company that picks up sawdust from their floors to put into paper can technically claim that product is “recycled” on the packaging. Instead, look for “post-consumer recycled content” to find a product made with truly recycled materials.
Keep in mind that companies use resources for more than their products themselves. Look at the packaging of the product to see if it uses sustainable materials and/or can be disposed of in an environmentally friendly manner. The product itself might also require special disposals that might not be beneficial to the environment, especially if there are warnings about how or where to use it.
Another good idea is to research other products or practices of a company to find out if a company’s environmental claims are consistent. For example, a hotel chain might claim to be “green” for allowing guests to reuse towels to lessen water use. However, this hotel may use more water in other services, such as in cooking or ground maintenance. A product might be produced in an energy efficient way, but still contain hazardous materials. Researching a company’s history with environmental concerns will provide valuable information about their practices and claims. The Federal Trade Commission also offers regular press releases and research about the validity of claims in ads.
Don’t Be Fooled By Greenwashing Claims
Consumers are starting to look for products that are friendlier to the environment. This shift has encouraged companies to adopt better practices, but some companies are making claims that cannot be supported. Additional research and learning about terms are good ideas to remember when you want to choose better products for yourself and the environment.
What have you noticed in “green” claims? How have you decided to choose certain products over others?