Simply put, greenwashing is the act of misleading the public into thinking a product or entire brand is more conscious and clean than it actually is. This is typically done with misleading wording and imagery, but the greenwashing tactics used today go far beyond just that.
These tips will help you avoid greenwashing brands and empower you to be a more conscious consumer.
Look at Their Advertising Strategies and Branding
Does the brand heavily promote themselves as being a clean brand without actually saying so?
The imagery and colors used in the branding are a common key area to pay attention to. Greenwashing brands often use green tones and natural or plant-based imagery in their promotional materials and product packaging.
This is a very common tactic that greenwashing brands use, because it gives the impression that the product is eco-friendly or natural, without directly false advertising.
Look At The Ingredients List
Take a good look at the ingredients list. You don't have to be an expert in ingredients to identify common major offenders like chemical sunscreens and parabens.
Look For Fake Logos & Certifications
Just because a product claims to be organic, cruelty-free, fair trade, or vegan doesn't mean it's necessarily true. Look for real logos from known certifying agencies like the USDA (for organic claims) and make sure the logos they use are real.
Often, simply using Google to see what other people are saying about a brand is a good way to find out if it's greenwashing or not. These days, brands can't often get away with greenwashing without someone on the internet talking about it.
Contact The Company
Being proactive is a great way to keep on top of the world of clean and conscious products. If you have any doubts about a specific product or ingredients in it, email the company. This also has a great secondary benefit of telling the brand that transparency and conscious ingredients are important.
Watch Out For Bait and Switch Tactics
Sometimes, companies will create a small line of clean and eco-friendly products to draw customers into their brands. This leads people to believe that the entire brand is a conscious brand, when in reality its only one product.
Example: Imagine a beauty brand that sells one mascara made out of 100% recycled plastic. This might make people think that the rest of the products the brand sells are eco-friendly, when in reality, they aren't.
Watch Out For Brands That Focus On One Aspect of Being Conscious
Similar to the point above, be aware of brands that might focus on one area to make it seem as though the product is better than it is.
Example: Another beauty brand might base their entire marketing around being plastic-free, but they also support animal testing, or use unethical materials like mica in the products.
Watch out for terms that don't mean anything
There is a long list of terms used on packaging that doesn't actually mean anything. All of these terms are not regulated, meaning they can be used by brands to mislead you into thinking the product is better than it actually is.
If you see any of these terms on a product, it's a sign that it might be a greenwashing brand.
- Biodegradable - Most products that claim to be biodegradable aren't exactly more eco-friendly. This is because items in a landfill simply won't biodegrade any faster.
- Cruelty-free - A product not being tested on animals is great! But make sure that its truly cruelty-free by checking sites like Cruelty-Free Kitty. Furthermore, a product being cruelty-free doesn't mean that it's eco-friendly or free from toxic chemicals.
- Dermatologist recommended - Which dermatologist recommended it? Were they paid for their endorsement, or are they affiliated with the company in some way?
- Non-toxic - Based on what criteria?
- Organic (only if the product isn't certified organic by a trusted agency like USDA)
- Plant-derived / Plant-derived
- Sensitive - Implying that the ingredients used might be less toxic than those without this label.
While this belongs in the above section, it's an important enough topic to give it more of a focus.
Be very suspicious of a product that has claims of "Free from..." on the packaging. This is almost always completely irrelevant, and only meant to give the impression that the product is better than products from other competitors.
Example: Imagine a sunscreen that says "Free from mercury" which might lead you to believe that other sunscreens have mercury in them, when in fact no sunscreen on the planet does.
This tactic is also sometimes used to distract from the other harmful ingredients that might be in the product.
Example: A sunscreen might say "Free From Oxybenzone", which in itself may be true, but in reality the product contains three other chemical sunscreens that are just as bad.
Although brands are trying to trick us with greenwashing, it's not hard to avoid them if you know what signs to look for. Being aware of the tricks brands use makes it easy to avoid this misleading practice, and allows you to purchase from only brands that are truly conscious and clean.