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What is greenwashing?

What is greenwashing?

The term greenwashing was initially used back in the 80’s, it is the act of making something look like it is more environmentally friendly or sustainable than it really is. 

One of the most well-known examples of greenwashing is the oil company Chevron, which back in the mid-1980s broadcast a TV ad about its environmental dedication while violating the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, and spilling oil into wildlife refuges. 

It seems like nowadays with the increase of society’s concern about the environment and the climate crisis, many companies are investing a lot of money in greenwashing campaigns so that the public sees them as environmentally conscious.

Many companies use green labels, or terms like “natural’, “eco” or “bio” on their packaging and advertising in a misleading way or making unfounded claims. 

How can we tell when the claims are true or not? 

Well, there are some organizations that can help you out, like the National Advertising Division of Council of Better Business Bureaus, you can also check Futerra’s 2015 Selling Sustainability Report that offers 10 basic tips to avoid falling for companies’ greenwashing claims: 

  • Green products vs. dirty company: Efficient light bulbs made in a factory that pollutes rivers
  • Fluffy language: Words or terms with no clear meaning (e.g., “eco-friendly”)
  • Suggestive pictures: Images that indicate an (unjustified) green impression (e.g., flowers blooming from exhaust pipes)
  • Irrelevant claims: Emphasizing one tiny green attribute when everything else is un-green
  • Best in class: Declaring you are slightly greener than the rest, even if the rest are pretty terrible
  • Just not credible: “Eco-friendly” cigarettes, anyone? “Greening” a dangerous product doesn’t make it safe.
  • Gobbledygook: Jargon and information that only a scientist could check or understand
  • Imaginary friends: A label that looks like a third-party endorsement … except it’s made up
  • No proof: It could be right, but where’s the evidence?
  • Outright lying: Totally fabricated claims or data

As consumers we have the power to decide what we buy and from whom, therefore we should buy responsibly, taking advantage of having access to information and double-checking the real origin of things. We have the power of demanding companies to be more environmentally sound. 

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