5 Simple Tips on How to Avoid Greenwashing and Never Be Fooled Again
May 20, 2022
Many companies will try persuade you to buy their "green products", even if they're not really that green. They'll make irrelevant claims, use vague terms, create confusion, and use green packaging to try to fool you.
You may have been caught out by some of these tactics before. I know that I have! You get home with your purchase, idly read the label, and realise that you haven't really been buying eco friendly stuff. You've fallen for the eco friendly "guff"!
You've been greenwashed, and it's a big issue.
Research shows that 72% of Australian shoppers rank ethical brand behaviour in their top three priorities when buying products and will spend more to buy greener products. Shoppers are becoming more aware of their choices. They're eager to know that what they're buying is good for them and the planet. But you don't always get what you're paying for.
However, there are some simple ways that you can learn what to look out for, so the next time you're shopping, you can spot the greenwash and avoid it. Here's a few ideas:
Tips and tricks to spot and avoid greenwashing
Be cautious about the front of the pack
The first thing customers see in products is the front of the pack. A greenwashing company can use this to its advantage. They’ll get your attention and add eco claims and environmental imagery.
For example, beware of “free from” claims. Some claims refer to substances or ingredients that aren’t on the label, but wouldn't normally be anyway. A couple of examples are CFC free or hormone free. CFC free, for example, is simply greenwashing. Products shouldn’t contain chlorofluorocarbons in the first place - they've been banned around the world for decades.
Look out for vague claims that use broad terms like “farm fresh” eggs. It only says that the eggs came from a farm. There’s nothing remarkable about these eggs. Buying eggs produced by a hen raised on a commercial farm isn't that special - they're exactly the same as any other eggs on the supermarket shelf.
Also, watch out for green terms like “natural” or “organic”. The term “organic” is not regulated in Australia. So is “pure” or “natural”. The best way to prove these claims is to check the ingredients and look for certifications.
Beware of "green" packaging
Another example of greenwashing is using colours and images. Some brands use this tactic to make you think that the product in the package is "green".
The use of natural colours like green, brown, and white might make you think of nature, trees, and foliage. But these colours can indirectly convey that the product is an eco friendly choice, which might not always be accurate.
The same goes for packaging that uses images of fruit, flowers, and other plants. These may be nice to look at. But photos don't always reflect that the product inside is actually natural, organic, or eco friendly. A skincare product, for example, may use pictures of flowers and medicinal plants on its packaging to suggest that the product inside is all natural. But it may contain a very small amount of plant ingredients, and indeed, these may be so processed that they might as well be synthetic.
Another one to watch out for is “100% recyclable” packaging claims. It sounds good, but it doesn't highlight the fact that it's single use packaging, nor can you always tell if it's actually able to be recycled. Sometimes the pieces are so hard to pull apart that in reality, they can't really be recycled at all.
It may also take your focus away from the fact that what's inside isn't very eco friendly.
Read the back of the pack
Find out what the product contains when you read the back of the pack. Always read the ingredients. By law, ingredients must be listed in order, from the largest to the smallest quantity.
Also, read the fine print on the product packaging to find the important details. A brand of toilet paper, for example, may claim that it’s made from recycled materials. But the fine print reads that it’s a “recycled middle layer,” which means that the two other layers aren’t recycled.
Check for independent certification
Look for logos. Check if the certification is from independent, government or third party certifiers. Products may bear logos that are self certifications or self declarations by companies that greenwash. It's always better to check and be sure.
Examples of independent certifications:
Vegan beauty products, for example, have become more and more popular. But before buying any of them, check if they're certified. Look for Choose Cruelty Free, Leaping Bunny, Certified Vegan, and Vegan Society certifications.
Use common sense
One way to spot greenwashing brands is to do some critical thinking, too. Always ask yourself what terms brands are using and what they mean.
When you see a product that says “chemical free”, does this mean it has no synthetic or toxic ingredients? Or does it not make logical sense?
Always remember that some natural and naturally derived ingredients can be harmful, too. And for a product to be non toxic, it shouldn’t contain ingredients that can harm humans and the environment.
Think Critically and Don’t Assume
Don’t jump to conclusions if you suspect that a company is greenwashing. Get in touch, ask questions, read more, and learn to be sceptical. Always use your critical thinking skills to know what's true and what's not.