How to spot Greenwashing

by Gabriella Ghelani

What is Greenwashing? 

Greenwashing is when a company markets themselves or their products as environmentally friendly, when actually their products and the ethics at the heart of the company themselves are far from 'green'.

This is to encourage their customers to purchase what they're selling, while actually being a deceitful and overall harmful gimmick. 

Examples of Greenwashing

The term was actually coined back in 1986 by Jay Westerveld, an American Environmentalist, for an essay in which... 

"[H]e claimed the hotel industry falsely promoted the reuse of towels as part of a broader environmental strategy; when, in fact, the act was designed as a cost-saving measure (Orange and Cohen )." - Springer Link, Encyclopaedia of Corporate Social Responsibility 

So even though the hotel industry claimed that reusing your towel was for the sole benefit of the environment, the intentions behind it were still corrupt and focused on non-environmental benefits.

More recently seen examples of Greenwashing would be plastic-free cutlery for events and picnics wrapped in single-use wrappers, biodegradable wet wipes housed in plastic packaging and Shell being a sponsor of Science Museum's climate change exhibition 'Our Future Planet'.

Why is Greenwashing important? 

When companies are able to sell more of their product with an undercurrent of harmful behaviour, this can have a negative impact in many different ways. 

When large fast-fashion retailers bring out an 'environmentally friendly' line, this doesn't mean they stop producing the rest of the petroleum based clothes that make up 95% of their overall range.

There's also many more complex issues with fair wages and living conditions for their garment workers, who are usually outsourced to less developed countries. So make sure you're getting all the facts as well as asking yourself, "is this company creating this line to change their overall ethics, or to make more money".

fast fashion

Another huge impact is on the planet itself. For example, you can pick up any number of products in your local supermarket with "eco refill" or "natural ingredients" or "biodegradable" but here are the questions you should be asking when you pick this product up...

- Who made this product? Are they a large scale conglomerate looking to make more money, quickly, by slapping an "eco" sticker on it? 

- Do they test on animals? Is this product fully cruelty free (i.e. check the parent company)? Did you know that Ecover are now owned by SC JohnsonSC Johnson who openly test on animals

- What about the end of life of this product? Once it's washed down the drain will harmful chemicals leech into our waterways

And our personal favourite...

Is it housed or packaged in plastic? Plastic is not infinitely recyclable so why is this termed as "eco"? Even if it is "now 50% less plastic".

plastic pollution

How do I avoid Greenwashing?

Unfortunately, this is completely down to you. As much as I wish there were personal green-guardian angels sitting on our shoulder every time we picked up a product, there isn't. However Ecosia/Ocean Hero (the better versions of Google) are beautiful tools. 

Research is going to be your key to unlocking sustainable shopping, and while it might take a bit longer, the outcome is worth it. No plastic entering waterways, no bunnies being tested on, no fat cat corporate greed being fed while we bring harmful chemicals into our home. 

Also look out for...

  • Look out for fluffy language with no proof. Terms like "eco" with no clear evidence or meaning
  • Does this product match the company it's coming from? 
  • Even if the company is claiming to be eco - do they show any evidence? Are they doing their bit to help the planet or is this a one off product or line?
  • Is there a lot of scientific jargon that you're not able to look up?  

With the eco-movement becoming so popular (which is great) so is the dirty tactic of Greenwashing (not so great). 

We need to start holding these companies accountable, so make sure you're calling them out. Whether that's on social media, writing a letter, protesting or speaking directly to the company. The louder the voice the quicker change will come. 

planet over profit sign

Have you come across Greenwashing? If so where? We'd love to hear your thoughts via our socials @GreenPearEco

We're still learning and are striving to do the very best, but if you spot something we have done, please help us by reaching out!