What is Greenwashing?
Greenwashing is a marketing tactic that companies use to imply that their products or policies are environmentally friendly, when in reality they are not. This can be done in a variety of ways, including having green packaging with a plant graphic, or using words like “natural” and “eco-friendly.”
Greenwashing is becoming more and more common as brands are picking up on the fact that consumers are beginning to care more about purchasing sustainable and ethical products. It is widely used in the fashion industry, the beauty industry, and the food/drink industry.
One example of greenwashing in the fashion industry is H&M’s Garment Collecting program, where they encourage their shoppers to drop off any of their unwanted clothing to their in-store “recycling” bin. They claim that they will take their customers’ used clothing (no matter the condition) and make them into new clothing, and in exchange, shoppers will receive a voucher to spend on their next H&M purchase. The problem with this is that it further promotes consumerism by encouraging their customers to keep buying their clothing. Since H&M is one of the top fast fashion retailers in the world, it is hard to believe that their brand can ever be sustainable unless they make significant changes to the way and the rate at which they produce clothing. The reality is that the act of actually recycling clothes and making them into something new takes a lot more time and money than the mass production they are used to. Unfortunately, more often than not, the clothes you drop off at these recycling bins will be shipped overseas, or even be sent straight to the landfill.
If you have fallen victim to greenwashing, don’t feel bad – we’ve all been there. These marketing campaigns are literally designed to fool us; it is often done so seamlessly that we don’t even think twice about it. What you can do is learn about how to spot these tactics so that you can avoid being green washed.
How to spot greenwashing
1. Look for words like “eco-friendly,” “sustainable,” “recycled,” “compostable,” “organic,” etc. without any information to back them up. Vague claims like these, with a lack of proof to support them is most likely greenwashing.
A product might claim to be organic, but this could mean it is a certain percentage organic. It might be made with 50% organic cotton, and 50% polyester, or another synthetic material that is harmful to the environment and does not break down at the same rate as cotton. Even if the product is organic, that doesn’t automatically make it sustainable. We also have to take into account the water usage and toxic dyes and water pollution that occurs in the creation of this product.
Another thing to note is just because it’s labelled as “vegan,” or “cruelty-free” doesn’t mean it’s better for the environment - it only means (or is supposed to mean) that the product was made without the use of animals, and does not test on animals. Vegan leather is often applauded since it is made without animals, but these products are often made of synthetic materials like polyester, which is essentially plastic, which is detrimental to the environment.
2. If it is a truly sustainable & ethical product, it is only natural that the price will probably be higher than what you are used to seeing. If you see an organic Tshirt for sale and it’s only $15, it is questionable how this could’ve been achieved for so cheap.
3. Look for certifications. Some trustworthy certifications include Fairtrade, Global Organic Textiles Standard (GOTS), and Oeko-Tex.
4. Check the Good on You app. With their ratings for environment, labour, and animals, this app will help you decipher which brands to support, and which to steer clear of based on their practices.
5. The reality is, if a brand is truly sustainable and cares about the environment, they will discuss it openly. Check their website to find out more information about the brand, and see if they mention anything about having sustainable practices. If they claim to be sustainable in an advertisement, but there is no mention of it on their website or anywhere else, that’s a big red flag.
Now that you know more about greenwashing and how to avoid it, you can become a smarter, more conscious shopper, and hopefully you will use this information to help educate those around you.