We all want to do our part to limit the catastrophic consequences of climate change, even if that’s as simple as making more environmentally conscious decisions when we buy our clothes, groceries, and cleaning supplies. Unfortunately, many companies know that consumers are looking for “eco-friendly” options these days, and are willing to spend more time marketing themselves as eco-friendly than they do on actually minimizing their environmental impact. This deceitful marketing tactic is known as “greenwashing.” Here’s how to recognize it when you encounter it.
How to spot and avoid greenwashing
Greenwashing is a marketing gimmick to make something seem environmentally conscious, when in reality, the product doesn’t live up to the claims of sustainability. According to Business News Daily, the term was coined by environmentalist Jay Westerveld in 1986 as a critique of the “save the towel” movement in hotels—a practice that had little impact beyond saving hotels money in laundry costs.
The result of greenwashing is that consumers are misled into thinking they’re making environmentally conscious decisions when they really aren’t. If you want to avoid this deceit, U.S. News provides several telltale signs of greenwashing:
- Contradicting packaging. The product may be designed with leaves and trees, but that design is printed on top of a large amount of non-recyclable plastic.
- Incorrect or incomplete claims. Brands get around a lack of third-party verification by writing “organic” instead of what you should look for, “USDA Organic.” Another common greenwashing tactic is a green seal that doesn’t actually have a certified marking.
- “Secondhand” marketing tactics. If a brand sells “recycled” products while simultaneously selling new products at a discount, they’re simply trying to use the appeal of “secondhand” products to encourage more consumption. They’re not actually addressing the overproduction that fuels overconsumption.
The bottom line
The bottom line is that most companies are focused solely on their own bottom line. Greenwashing takes advantage of the fact that you want to be a more conscientious consumer and tries to keep you as a consumer, at all costs. Look for contradictions between how a product is marketed and its environmental impact, so that you can avoid brands that don’t truly align with your values.
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