The concept of greenwashing is an important one to understand if you’re trying to live a more eco-friendly lifestyle. Here’s an explanation of what greenwashing is and how to spot it
What is greenwashing?
Greenwashing happens when companies falsely advertise themselves or their products as environmentally friendly. With the eco-movement growing so rapidly, many businesses are starting to create truly innovative eco-friendly products; however, others are going the opposite route and just marketing them as though they are environmentally conscious when they’re actually not.
Three Examples of Greenwashing
1. Reusable Polyester Bags
Photo by Gaelle Marcel on UnsplashThe first example of greenwashing is claiming that reusable polyester bags are eco-friendly. These bags often mimic the look and feel of a plastic bag but are more durable. And yes, if you buy them, you will ideally use fewer disposable plastic bags—but what are manufacturers not telling you? Well, polyester is a kind of plastic. And “for polyester and other synthetic materials, the emissions for production are much higher as they are produced from fossil fuels such as crude oil,” explains Nature.com.
The solution? If you’re looking for a reusable grocery bag, buy one that’s made from recycled plastic or from organic cotton or hemp. If you already have polyester ones, by all means use them! A big part of living a more eco-friendly lifestyle is using what we already have.
2. Fast Fashion
Photo by Artem Beliaikin on UnsplashMany fast fashion companies have been accused of using marketing spin to greenwash their campaigns. Fast fashion (aka cheap, trendy clothing) is harmful to the environment because much of the clothing is made from unsustainable fabric and the clothes aren’t made to last. Also, these companies produce so many clothes so quickly that when they have too much inventory, they burn, shred or landfill the unsold merchandise.
One major brand recently launched a “conscious” line of clothing made from organic cotton and recycled polyester. The problem is that even though the fabrics are better than less-sustainable alternatives, the majority of clothing by the brand remains unsustainable and the majority of their workers are mistreated and severely underpaid.
The solution? If you don’t have a big clothing budget, try thrifting. You can even shop online with companies like Thred Up. This brand also allows you to sell your used clothes to them. This way you can give new life to old clothes, save money, and keep textiles out of landfills. If you’re unsure about how sustainable a clothing brand is, download the Good On You app. This app lets you know how workers are treated, how animals are treated, and how sustainable a brand’s fabrics are.
3. Fast Food
Photo by PJ Gal-Szabo on UnsplashThe third example of greenwashing is within the fast-food industry. The production of meat and dairy products is extremely harmful to the environment. In fact, agriculture is one of the biggest industries responsible for deforestation on the planet. The agriculture industry is also one of the biggest factors contributing to ocean dead zones (“water bodies where aquatic life cannot survive because of low oxygen levels” –EPA). Not only that, but methane released from cows’ digestion is harmful to the atmosphere as well. It’s even more harmful than CO2.
Recently, a fast-food chain decided to change their cows’ diets to “fight climate change.” They claimed that by feeding cows lemongrass and tweaking their diets, they could reduce cows’ daily methane emissions by 33 percent. While this is a big improvement, it doesn’t tackle all of the aforementioned issues. Not to mention, most people who work on factory farms are often mistreated and underpaid as well.
So what’s the solution? On an individual level, you can reduce how much meat you consume. Even if you don’t want to go vegetarian or vegan, simply decreasing your meat intake can help a lot (red meat production has the biggest impact on the environment, so try eliminating it first.) Plus, many people are trying to cut back on consuming meat for health reasons too.
How to spot greenwashing
So how can you spot greenwashing when you’re shopping for clothes, groceries or other necessities? Use the Good On You app to find ethical and eco-friendly clothing brands. Download the ThinkDirty app to find cosmetics, makeup and toiletries that are toxin-free and safer for your skin and the environment.
Think critically and learn to read clothing tags and food packages more carefully. Does the packaging on a food item you want to purchase say "organic" on it in big bold letters but there’s actually no organic certification? Does a reusable item that’s supposed to replace a plastic item come packaged in plastic anyway? How are workers treated and paid by the company you want to buy from? Is this company just creating a campaign to make themselves sound slightly more eco-friendly when they’re not actually making big enough changes?
By reading these examples, downloading these apps and asking these questions, you are now more prepared to spot greenwashing and can learn how to avoid it.
Sources: Fast Fashion Brands Greenwashing; Ocean Dead Zones Caused by Agriculture; Burger King Changing Cows’ Diets (Time online)