Greenwashing is such a varied and deep topic to delve into when you first step into the world of ethical consumerism that is not possible to cover in this five minute article. I will, however, do my best to give a bird’s eye view of what greenwashing is and why you need to know about it.

What is Greenwashing?

In short, Greenwashing was a term coined by Jay Westerveld who criticised hotels for their ‘save the towel’ movement while their other practices were not as environmentally friendly. It speaks to companies attempting to seem more green while in fact, they simply aren’t overall. While on the surface you could think, hey, at least they are saving resources, which is great right? Well, sort of…

Why is Greenwashing a problem?

While companies may seem like they have the right intention of displaying their eco-credentials, many times, those credentials aren’t entirely true, or may be exaggerated to make them seem more important than they really are. At the end of the day, it’s an attempt to capitalise on the increasing demand for more ethical products. In truth, can we really feel good about a paper straw that is attached to the juice carton in a plastic wrapper?

Many examples have come to light as greenwashing becomes easier to spot. One classic example is that of Volkswagen cheating their emissions tests so they could advertise their cars as having lower emissions when the truth was that they were almost 40 times higher!

Of course, some examples are not as sinister, or even as deliberate, as one would think. This normally comes as a result of miseducation or lack of expertise about certain aspects of the green movement. One of which is touting items as biodegradable. Most of the time, things that are ‘biodegradable’ take many, many years to break down and even then they only break down into smaller, just as harmful, bits. And given, just like the term ‘natural’ there are no regulations around the term biodegradable so it would be wise to approach these claims with some caution. Some countries have even banned companies using the term.

So how do I spot Greenwashing?

This can be tricky because marketing campaigns are getting bigger and more persuasive these days but as you learn more they will become easier to spot.

Watch out for companies advertising that they are ‘greener’ than their peers when their sector is doing a lot of damage anyway. This could be companies like oil and tobacco.

Vague terms like ‘eco-friendly’ or ‘green’ are completely subjective and not quantitative. Especially when companies say they are on the road to becoming carbon neutral when they have not provided specifics on how they are going to attain this goal and by when.

And, of course, companies that provide no proof of their eco-credentials. Companies that are truly doing their best for the environment with have done their research and can provide evidence of their efforts if you simply ask them.

In closing…

While it can be a difficult to spot the frauds when trying to make an ethical decision, just by being aware of greenwashing you are already making a sound decision. Because, at the end of the day, knowledge really is your super power.