greenwashing words hanging on a washing line

How to spot and avoid greenwashing

Throughout Recycle Week and Big Green Week, we noticed a scary trend. Many brands were jumping on the green bandwagon without actually doing anything to support the cause. Swapping their logos for the week to ‘green’ variants – that was probably the most common and most meaningless action we saw. Why is it meaningless? Because most of these logo changes were standalone actions. There was no follow-up to recycle more, source sustainable materials for products, or any type of pledge to be carbon neutral. This is greenwashing at its finest. But how can we spot it in everyday circumstances? Well, we’re glad you asked.

What is greenwashing? 

It has become somewhat of a buzzword, but greenwashing is posing a real threat to our fight against climate change. First of all, it’s important to establish what greenwashing is. Put short, it’s a brand’s way of seeming eco-friendly without doing anything to benefit the planet. 

Being kinder to the planet is essential, but it’s also become a trend to be seen doing the right thing. Companies know that if they’re not doing anything to fight climate change, there’s a real worry that they’ll be left behind. But change is expensive. 

Switching suppliers, altering manufacturing methods, sourcing new materials – it’s not something that can happen overnight, and it can be a costly process. It’s often cheaper to harm the planet than using slow and sustainable methods. So, what happens when a company wants to be seen as doing the right thing but doesn’t necessarily have the funds, time, or resources to do so? They greenwash. 

Why do brands greenwash? 

Throughout the last decade or so, millions of us have avoided purchasing from health and beauty brands that experiment on animals. Why? There’s huge social pressure to do so. Now the power of the #CrueltyFree movement has meant that testing on animals for cosmetics is banned in the EU. Promoting a product as ‘cruelty-free’ is now a positive selling point rather than a political statement. 

The same can be seen with fighting climate change. Where ‘zero waste packaging’ and ‘sustainable and ethical materials’ may have been empty words before, it’s now a positive and popular selling point – and brands want it for themselves.  

Fortunately, laws surrounding brands and packaging mean that many cannot make such a bold claim without it being true. But as always, there are ways to still appeal to the new eco-friendly market without changing a thing about a product or breaking any laws. For example, calling your product is ‘green’ – it lacks any substance. This means it’s often used to appeal to audiences but cannot land a brand in trouble as there is no tangible claim to it. 

What does greenwashing look like? 

It’s important to note here that the easiest and most effective way you can avoid being greenwashed is by simply researching a brand. There are plenty of websites out there that will help guide you. For example, Good On You is a great tool to discover if your favourite fashion brands are eco-friendly or just greenwashing you with a ‘sustainability range’. 

Greenwashing can come in a variety of ways. One of the most popular is to say a product is degradable. It simply means the product can break down into smaller pieces. However, it doesn’t always mean that this breakdown is eco-friendly and that raw materials return to the earth. It can mean that more harmful materials are released into the atmosphere. 

Here’s our list of the most common types of greenwashing to look out for: 

  • Excessive green on packaging/branding including tree motifs 
  • Pop words like ‘biodegradable’ ‘sustainable’ ‘green’ and ‘eco’ 
  • Talking about a contribution to ‘charity’ without stating who and evidencing it 
  • Talk about ‘fighting climate change’ and not about how they’ll do it 
  • Using terms, ‘zero waste’ and ‘zero emissions’ without any evidence 
  • ‘100% organic cotton’ is a big one for fashion as cotton isn’t always sustainable 

Remember that there are a lot of good, sustainable, and ethical brands out there to purchase from. If you’re unsure: research the brand, ask them questions, examine what they say, look for more information yourself, trust your gut, ignore the green imagery and marketing, then review the product when it arrives.

So now you’re aware of greenwashing, what it looks like, and why you should avoid it. Do any brands spring to mind? Have you ever wondered if you’ve been greenwashed into purchasing a product? Don’t feel guilty if you have, it happens to the best of us – there’s a reason we know it as marketing. The important thing is to recognise these products and brands and avoid their greenwashed products in the future. Let us know in the comments below of any items you think our readers should avoid!

4 Responses

  1. Quite frankly a lot of what appears here on greenredeem is greenwashing anyway. It seems to encourage the use of products that claim to be green without considering the true energy balance of everything involved. And it is the energy balance that is more important than the materials. And apart from the true cost of energy many of the so called green products are expensive and not all people can afford them

    1. Sorry you feel that way, we’re trying to provide eco-friendly options for everyone. We appreciate not everyone will want to or have the funds to make these swaps, but we’re trying to get across a balanced view rather than asking people to never buy an item. We believe these small changes will make a difference, and open people’s minds ever so slightly to a new way of living that reduces their impact on the environment.

    1. Hi Stuart, the points codes for our blogs are only there for the most recent post. This blog went live on the 27th of September, which means it expired on the 4th of October – it looks like you were two days late I’m afraid, but don’t worry you can earn plenty more points in the activity section of your profile

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