Greenwashing: How To Spot and Stop The Bullshit!

In our hyper-consumption based societies, it is a smart decision to raise an eyebrow whenever you hear organizations make claims of how they are ‘doing their part’ in the quest to ‘save the Earth’. This is because most companies across the world today invest more time and money on marketing their products or brand as ‘green’ rather than actually doing the hard work to ensure that it is sustainable. And this is what greenwashing is.

Greenwashing essentially refers to a deceptive form of marketing with an underlying purpose to increase profits, in which companies claim how their products, policies, and goals etc. are ‘environment-friendly’ and therefore do less damage to nature.

While some greenwashing is unintentional and results from a lack of knowledge about what sustainability truly is, it is often intentionally carried out through a wide range of marketing and PR efforts. The common denominator, however, among all greenwashing is that it is not only misleading but also does not really help in furthering any sustainable design or circular economy initiatives. Thus, environmental problems most likely stay the same or get even worse.

One of the most pervasive examples of greenwashing is in the world of single-use plastic. A recent instance is that of leading coffee-chain Starbucks, which in 2018 announced eliminating plastic straws in its beverages globally by 2020. By changing its lid to a sippy cup style lid made of thicker plastic, the company claimed to replace plastic straws. Starbucks had also pointed out that this new lid can be recycled.

However, 91% of plastic produced globally is NOT recycled. And hence, these lids being recycled is a myth and most of these would end up in landfills or incinerators along with their matching cups. But the new lids succeeded in ‘greenwashing’ Starbucks customers, making them feel as though the company had done something for the environment.

Spot Greenwashing

So, how can we spot it?

As consumers, we have the power to see through the greenwashing and call bullshit where it is due. One of the easiest ways is to spot products and solutions with a wide range of vague buzzwords around eco-friendliness like ‘environment friendly’, ‘green’, ‘non-toxic’, ‘sustainable’, ‘biodegradable’, ‘compostable’, ‘ESP friendly’, etc. Most of these sound too good to be true. The statements are over-ambitious, communication overstated and perhaps with dramatic wording involved. The marketing claims are largely not backed up with specific details or the statements seem vague, unspecific and unclear.

Essentially, each time your intuition about the ‘eco-friendly’ aspect of a brand feels off and something just does not seem inherently right about the final product/solution offered; it most likely is a classic case of greenwashing.

Stop Greenwashing

Now, how do we avoid it?

However misleading greenwashing can be, it is not as big a deal to avoid it, really. All you have to ensure is doing your own research, keeping a careful eye, and going with your gut feeling. Reading the ingredients list carefully, looking for genuine third-party accreditation, watching out for fake approval seals and self-proclamation etc. are some ways in which a consumer can avoid falling in the trap of greenwashing. Ask questions; like what do claims such as ‘made from renewable resources’, ‘manufactured with zero emissions’, ‘carbon-neutral’ etc. actually mean?

Unfortunately, as long as people continue buying such ‘greenwashed’ products, companies will continue trying to keep up the facade of sustainability without actually following through. Instead of buying these, research and look for brands that are actually dedicated to upholding the environmental practices.

The biggest practice would be to not get overwhelmed by the clearly deceptive signals of greenwashing. Let this newfound knowledge empower you towards making more educated decisions on what to purchase. And with practice, picking up on these marketing gimmicks will surely become second nature, helping you spot and stop greenwashing easily and effectively!

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