Tips for Conscious Consumers
Have you ever bought a product and wondered if the company is as eco-friendly as they claim? There are many companies that say they are helping the environment but are either doing very little or actively damaging the planet. Greenwashing is term used to describe naughty companies that make bloated claims of helping the planet but are not.
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Disclaimer: This article has affiliate links to products mentioned throughout. If you were to purchase a product, I make a small commission from the sale which supports this blog. I am not sponsored by any brand mentioned and my views and opinions are my own.
What is Greenwashing?
As the climate crisis looms ever nearer and the global heat temperature rising, we are bombarded with media buzzwords like climate crisis, fossil fuels, clean energy and sustainable products.
Additionally, in today’s age, consumers are becoming more conscious of their impact on the environment. As a result, companies large and small are putting more emphasis on sustainability and eco-friendliness in their marketing campaigns.
However, some companies e.g. fossil fuel companies and fast fashion companies (some of the biggest polluters) engage in the deception of “greenwashing,”. They make false claims about their products’ environmental benefits.
Greenwashing a practice can lead to confusion and distrust among consumers who genuinely want to make a difference. Nielsen Media Research presented a study showing that 66% of global consumers are willing to pay for more environmentally friendly products.
In this blog, I will explain:
- What greenwashing is.
- How greenwashing works.
- How to spot greenwashing when choosing brands or services.
We will discuss the psychological effects of greenwashing and provide tips on how you can deter it. We will also evaluate the impact of greenwashing on the environment and ask whether it is a barrier to a sustainable future.
So if you’re a conscious consumer who wants to make informed choices then keep reading.
If you’ve heard of the terms whitewashing and sport-washing then you’ll undoubtedly understand the term greenwashing. Many companies past and present know that consumers are becoming more eco-conscience as they want to do ‘their bit’ to help the environment.
As a result, companies who don’t really want to become more sustainable resort to deceiving customers with their sustainability claims, which has led to the term “greenwashing”
In 1986, an environmentalist Jay Westerveld first coined this term when researching the dodgy practices of companies in the hospitality trade in the United States.
Since then there have been numerous studies and systematic reviews by ethical marketers such as looking into companies that report to be eco-friendly but are far from what they promise in marketing.
Common Greenwashing Tactics
Companies that want to appear as though they are thinking about the planet rather than your purse will often use green-sounding terms to persuade you to buy their products. They use marketing jargon like:
- Reduced plastic
- Net Zero/carbon neutral
The phrases above are often over-emphasised on products or used in marketing campaigns and can often be misleading as it implies sustainability. Greenwashing is the act of making dishonest or insignificant assertions about a product’s environmental impact.
Why Greenwashing Is Bad For Small Business
These practices undermine the efforts made to combat climate change through sustainable practices. Worst still these company practices mean that smaller and genuinely sustainable companies don’t get to reach consumers.
Greenwashing tactics include:
- Vague or misleading statements
- Irrelevant certifications
- Hidden trade-offs
- Lack of transparency.
Transparency from companies regarding their environmental impact aids conscious consumerism. As consumers, we should scrutinize the entire lifecycle of a product rather than one aspect before purchase.
Just to note, there are plenty of fantastic companies that use these terms and are GENUINELY green and sustainable. The key difference here is that genuine companies have a clear and provable track record of their eco-friendly practices, which we’ll discuss later in the article.
What are the Psychological Effects of Greenwashing?
Greenwashing can cause consumers to feel falsely secure about their environmental impact and question the sincerity of green claims. This can lead to distrust towards companies and their environmental efforts. Consumers should verify claims before purchasing to avoid psychological effects.
True Sustainability vs Greenwashing
True sustainability requires more than just vague claims of being “green” or “eco-friendly.” It involves using specific and verifiable information to back up environmental claims, making genuine efforts to reduce environmental impact, and being transparent about those efforts.
Transparency should be seen in product packaging marketing and promotional material. Brands that prioritize marketing over actual sustainability efforts are engaging in greenwashing.
Think about it, if your company is engaging in green practices you would be shouting about everything you are doing across the business, not just one element. To combat greenwashing and promote real corporate social responsibility (CSR), we as stakeholders must increase scrutiny of companies
How to Spot Greenwashing
To recognize companies’ greenwash or deceptive sustainability claims, consumers must check for specific and verifiable environmental claims such as certifications or third-party validations.
It is also crucial to ensure transparency in the company’s sustainability practices and disclosures while avoiding marketing tactics that focus solely on environmental benefits without addressing critical issues like social responsibility.
According to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and the European Commission, when evaluating a company’s sustainability claims, you should look for third-party certifications such as the EU Ecolabel or USDA Organic seal and evidence of sustainable practices like reducing packaging waste or implementing renewable energy sources.
Seven Sins of Greenwashing
- Hidden Trade-Off – only focusing on one environmental issue (e.g. changing to plastic straws but the cup is still plastic)
- No Proof – environmental claims not backed up with evidence
- Vagueness – broad claims that are not clearly defined (e.g. promising that a product is green)
- False labelling – companies that create sustainability certifications that are not true. this can mislead people to think the product or company has been independently verified.
- Irrelevance – claims to not use certain chemicals that have been banned for decades (e.g. CFC has been banned for 30 years so to mention it is irrelevant)
- Promoting the lesser of two evils – promoting the environmental benefits of using a product that is inherently damaging to the environment (e.g. driving an SUV which produces high carbon emissions and claiming it’s a mild hybrid car)
- Fibbing – making claims which are completely false. (e.g. claiming a product is sustainable when it’s not)
Finally, it is essential to scrutinize claims like:
- Climate Neutral
- Carbon Neutral
- 100% CO2 compensated
- Net Zero
The reason why these claims are often spurious is because they are often based on offsetting which is not an economically sustainable practice (even though it sounds like it should be).
Carbon offsetting is the process whereby large companies and countries engage in activities to such as planting trees or paying off poorer countries as a means of reducing their carbon footprint.
The problem with this is that the process of planting trees can create additional C02 and does not address the route problem of excess gas emissions, excess plastic and harmful chemicals in our waterways.
Regulation in the UK To Stop Greenwashing
The UK government has stated that they take a firm stance against greenwashing. The government has also said they expect companies to move towards a more sustainable business model ASAP. Although this sounds great it’s also quite vague and leave room for a lot of interpretation.
The UK as a country has laws in place to counteract deceptive marketing tactics that mislead consumers about a company’s sustainability practices. Additionally, the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) enforces these laws with legal action against companies that engage in greenwashing or make vague environmental claims.
The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) regulates environmental claims in advertising, ensuring that companies cannot misrepresent their sustainability credentials to consumers. If you suspect greenwashing, you can file a complaint with either CMA or ASA.
Over the last decade, millennials and Gen Z’ers have taken to becoming environmental activists and as such there have been campaigns designed to highlight bogus green marketing practices on social media sites like Twitter to great success.
Third-Party Certifications for Sustainability
Independent verification of sustainability claims is crucial to identify greenwashing. Seeking third-party certifications from established organizations like:
These certifications go beyond eco-friendliness or green marketing and encompass the social responsibility of the organization to the their local community and the global environment.
The scrutiny on corporate social responsibility has increased, and stakeholders are demanding more transparency in sustainable practices, making third-party verification more important than ever.
Shopping with Sustainable Companies
Sustainable shopping involves finding brands that avoid harmful practices like fast fashion and use sustainable practices and prioritising social responsibility and environmental sustainability.
Look for pre-loved options for clothes on apps like Vinted. When searching for green products, look for eco-friendly production and packaging to reduce landfill waste from non-recyclable materials.
In addition to considering a brand’s environmental claims, research its supply chain and production methods.
Shopping with sustainable companies that prioritize renewable energy sources and environmentally friendly practices can greatly reduce your carbon footprint and contribute to positive change overall.
More Ways To Live Sustainably
If you want to know more about sustainable cleaning and laundry products check out my two blogs:
I also have a free download for five simple-to-make natural and organic self-care products such as shampoo, body wash and moisturiser.
Reducing Consumption for Sustainable Living
In the pursuit of living sustainably, it is essential to take significant measures in reducing overall consumption. Before making purchases, look into a company’s track record regarding sustainable practices in order to make informed decisions.
It’s important not to rely solely on eco-friendly claims on labels but rather focus on reducing consumption overall. Keep in mind the entire lifecycle of a product from production to disposal should help you to find a sustainable alternative.
If you’re looking for simple-to-apply tips on how to live more sustainably check out a blog I wrote called Top Tips For Sustainable Living
Frequently Asked Questions
What are some common tactics that companies use to greenwash their products or services?
Companies may greenwash their products by using vague terms like “eco-friendly” and sustainable. They often focus on one small environmentally friendly aspect as part of their marketing campaign (e.g. changing to paper straws while ignoring harmful aspects).
They may also make misleading claims about environmental benefits and use green imagery or packaging to create a false impression of sustainability. You should always check how easy it is to recycle packaging of the product and if in doubt look for a more sustainable option.
How Can Consumers Combat Greenwashing?
As a consumers you can take action against greenwashing by researching companies and their claims, seeking out third-party certifications or eco-labels, and being cautious of vague or misleading language in advertising.
Prioritize products with proven environmental benefits rather than simply relying on “green” packaging or marketing.
Are there any certifications or labels that I should look for when shopping for eco-friendly products?
Yes there are! When shopping for eco-friendly products or a sustainable brand, it’s important to look for certifications and labels such as:
- Energy Star.
- USDA Organic.
- Fair Trade Certified.
These should be from a reputable third-party organization to ensure legitimacy. Organisations like these should also have a register of pre-approved companies. Companies with these credentials have worked hard to achieve the certification because they have proved they have sustainable development policies and eco-friendly governance practices. and are required to maintain them. Be cautious of vague or exaggerated environmental claims on product packaging.
What are some common examples of greenwashing in marketing and advertising?
There have been many examples of well-known brands engaging in dodgy greenwashing practices in order to appear more eco-friendly than they actually are. Some examples of well-known brands are:
- A well-known smoothie brand were told to revise an advert for suggesting that their plastic bottles were sustainably sourced. They were not.
- A well-known the Sport Utility Vehicle brand were told to revise an advert that claimed that they brand of SUV’s were sustainable.
- A very well-known oil company claimed that the way in which they extracted their oil was sustainable. forgetting to mention that oil extraction in-and-of-its self is not a sustainable practice and is responsible for the climate’s air pollution.
Greenwashing in marketing and advertising includes vague or misleading environmental claims, irrelevant certifications, and ignoring larger environmental issues. The lack of transparency regarding the product’s impact is another red flag.
What is ESG Investing and should I try it?
ESG stands for environmental social and governance, it’s essentially a framework for how to invest in ethical stocks. If you are interested in ESG investing then the book ESG Investing For Dummies is a quick read to help you understand where to invest your money. This is a new area to me so I’ll be researching and adding blogs in the coming months. However, if you are interested in investing in ethical companies and stock options check out this blog by Investopedia.
Final Thoughts: Is Greenwashing a Barrier to a Sustainable Future?
Greenwashing poses a significant obstacle to achieving a sustainable future. The practice deceives people into believing a company’s products are eco-friendly when they are not.
The act of greenwashing is a massive problem that needs to be addressed as soon as possible. It’s easy to think that as one person we are powerless to do anything but that’s not true.
As a conscious consumer, you have the power to make a difference by choosing products and services that genuinely care for the environment.
By taking steps to avoid greenwashing and researching companies’ environmental track records, you can make informed decisions that benefit not only yourself and your family but the planet.
Ready to start living sustainably today? I have a free giveaway of five simple-to-make eco-friendly home care products. These include an all-purpose natural home cleaner, laundry detergent, and gorgeous-smelling room spray.