Going green has gone from a genuine concern for the health of the planet to a sneaky marketing strategy adopted by many brands worldwide. Maybe you’ve heard the word ‘greenwashing’ before, or maybe you have not. Regardless, it is a term that we should all get familiar with as our planet faces devastating, irreversible effects in apparently as little as 12 months. There are many definitions floating around the internet, but one we found to be the most accurate. “Greenwashing is the process of conveying a false impression or providing misleading information about how a company’s products are more environmentally sound”.
Not all brands that greenwash are completely neglecting the health of the planet. Sometimes it could just be one aspect of their business model. They are simply dramatizing existing efforts. Oftentimes, companies whose main business models involve polluting the planet try to counteract this by engaging in some green activity. It is important to be mindful of the businesses’ main objectives in the first place. Think of it like eating a greasy burger, and then having a sugar-free chocolate cake for dessert. Something isn’t adding up here. While whipping out your greenwashing magnifying glass may help spot the bad guys, first…
…It is crucial to first uncover the brand’s purpose.
If you’re on the brand side, always start with the “why”, and really dig to find your brand’s purpose. Simon Sinek says it perfectly here. If you don’t know why you do what you do, how will anyone else figure it out? The reality is, that greenwashing is simply a clever tactic to divert consumers away from a brand’s real ‘why’. When you start with an impactful ‘why’ that’s not only focused on the bottom line, it’s easier to be to avoid greenwashing practices. But of course, just in case you want some assistance, read ahead for 3 crucial identifiers that help to spot greenwashing brands.
Be sure to clarify between what actions a brand is taking and what they are saying. Often times brands can talk the talk, but can they walk the walk? Look out for the following buzz words like natural — there is no EU regulation defining what it actually means. Local is another term that seems to get abused consistently.
Sourcing locally and greenwashing labels
Sourcing locally can be better for the planet (no transported goods for thousands of miles, hello, insane amounts of CO2 emissions). But other unrevealed harmful factors still exist. For example, indoor farms require immense amounts of energy and are incredibly costly. Additionally, many large and local conventional farms utilize gas-run tractors and spray unhealthy amounts of fertilizers. Instead, look for labels such as the EU eco-label. Third-party organizations approve these labels. These organizations are usually unaffiliated with the company applying for the label. If you remain skeptical, look to the ingredients or materials list of a product. If the list takes you longer to read than these inspiring and sometimes *chuckle-worthy* Gretha Thunberg signs, that’s trouble. Synthetic materials are also always a no-no. Other buzzwords that perk our ears up include; green, sustainable, eco-friendly, renewable, or conscious. And no, there is no regulation for these words. Everyone should read them with great caution.
At last, we have our tried and true, ‘recyclable’, just because an item is recyclable, does not mean there is a proper system in place that will ensure it doesn’t end up in a landfill. But most importantly, follow your instinct — a genuine conscious company truly does not need buzzwords to communicate its message.
2. Heavy Advertising
Be on the lookout for companies who are contributing a large proportion of their spending on advertising. Most of the time this is to counteract or hide business decisions negatively impacting the environment. For example, Chevron, an American multinational energy company, created a campaign where they showcased many of their employees partaking in humanitarian, nature-filled activities. Bear in mind, that in 2011, the company was sued for $9.5 billion in Ecuador for contaminating parts of Ecuador’s jungles while drilling for oil. Excessive advertising that shows a picture-perfect company has probably put in the effort to come across as picture-perfect for a reason. Just think of all that wasted money that could have been more effectively used to contribute to real conscious actions executed by the company.
Labor standards vary from country to country. Oftentimes companies who have facilities in countries outside of their home country will report on employing workers who are being treated fairly. What they choose not to disclose is that the conditions are relative to the workers’ countries’ standards. For example, companies such as Target and Madewell have the Fair Trade Factory Certified label from Fair Trade USA. Yet, this certification is misleading. It only accounts for the factory in which the items are sewn. The label does not account for where the cotton is picked and dyed. The deeper we go into the supply chain, the easier we see it is for brands to hide their labor and manufacturing practices. Getting past this unfortunate reality requires looking for brands that are completely transparent. For example, Veja, which we discussed in a previous post here, does a fantastic job of showcasing complete transparency on its website. They even go as far as including their contracts with their rubber producers in Brazil. Be wary of brands who don’t show the entire picture and you will be on the right path to being the most meticulous greenwashing spy to roam the land!
Every individual has the power to create a positive impact through their conscious action. Whether it is through supporting a brand as a consumer or as a collaborator with your own brand. Once those values are solidified, it is just a matter of keeping purpose at the center of your decision-making process and all else will fall into place.
Read more about how you can reduce and recycle plastic waste here.