Green has hit the mainstream and green products and alternatives are more plentiful than ever before. This increasing environmental consciousness is amazing, and it's something that will serve us well in the climate decade. However, it does come with one unfortunate side effect: greenwashing. Virtually every product you see these days is making some kind of green claim as everyone and their brother wants to cash in on a green scheme. So how can you tell which ones are real and which are fake?
Greenwashing is the process of conveying a false impression or providing misleading information about how a company's products or services are more environmentally sound. Also known as "green sheen," greenwashing is an attempt to capitalize on the growing demand for environmentally friendly products, whether that means they are more natural, healthier, free of chemicals, recyclable, or less wasteful of natural resources. Greenwashing takes advantage of well-intentioned customers who want to make more responsible and mindful choices about the products they buy in an effort to help fight against issues like global pollution or the climate crisis; more often than not, this is achieved by making vague claims about their products to make consumers feel better about buying them.
Products are greenwashed through a process of renaming, rebranding, or repackaging them. For example, companies involved in greenwashing behavior might make claims that their products are from recycled materials, don't use excessive packaging or have energy-saving benefits. Although some of the environmental claims might be partly true, companies engaged in greenwashing typically exaggerate their claims or the benefits in an attempt to mislead consumers.
Organic, all natural and green are just some examples of the widely used labels that can be confusing and misleading to consumers. "Natural" here does not say anything about how the turkeys were raised. And while "all natural" poultry can't be given hormones, it still can be raised with antibiotics.
As consumers, it is our responsibility to learn how to identify greenwashing, but even more, it is the company’s responsibility not to mislead their customers. There are many companies, brands, and products that are genuinely conscious of the environment, and the numbers are growing (and while some will say that there’s no such thing as a truly sustainable product, some products definitely have less environmental impact than others). However, many big brands continue to exploit consumers with trendy buzzwords and flashy marketing budgets.
For example, in 2020, the Tide laundry detergent brand was called out for advertising that its Purclean detergent was 100% plant-based, when it was really only 75% plant-based. As a result, the company agreed to modify its plant-based claims that appeared on product labels.
Or take this packaging as another example.
At first glance, one would think that the bottle is made from paper fiber. However once you investigate further and peel away the layers, you find that it is actually still largely made of plastic. And yes, while it uses 66% less plastic than a typical 100oz. laundry bottle, you have still been grossly misguided.
Without more oversight on packaging claims and promotional language, greenwashing will remain common and difficult to spot. However, there are plenty of red flags for consumers to look out for while shopping for green products, from unaccredited or uncertified claims, to labels that don't really mean anything. Take the term cruelty-free: unless this label is accompanied by the Leaping Bunny label it doesn’t mean a thing. Another example is the term biodegradable: this is a popular greenwashing label, but in reality it means nothing. Most products will biodegrade, or break down, eventually, but that doesn’t mean they are eco-friendly.
Also ask yourself if the brand is promoting sustainability as the core to its business model, rather than just as an added benefit. Transparency can bridge the gap between artificial and genuine concern for the environment. At 1908 Brands, we do our best to tell our company's sustainability story and avoid greenwashing. We admit that we don't do everything a responsible company can do, (nor does anyone else we know). But we do tell you how we came to realize our environmental and social responsibilities, and then began to act on them.
CEO + Founder