Is Everyone As Green As They Say They Are? Tips On How To Spot Greenwashing

On the surface, choosing green products for environmental sustainability seems easy. After all, anything that states it’s green must be, right?

Unfortunately, it’s not that easy thanks to the concept of greenwashing. It’s something plenty of companies are guilty of committing and it can be very difficult to tell.

So, let’s look at what we mean by greenwashing and how to spot products and companies that are misrepresenting their sustainability efforts.

What is Greenwashing?

In simple terms, greenwashing is the idea of a company marketing itself as being more environmentally friendly than it actually is. Some examples include:

  • A company claiming it’s pro-eco products but it’s secretly trying to ban regulation.
  • A company releasing products that are eco-friendly while still selling its original and potentially damaging products.
  • A company claiming their products are recyclable or biodegradable when this only happens in very specific conditions.

        Greenwashing is essentially marketing efforts by companies to jump on the trend of eco-products and environmental sustainability. Interest in sustainable goods has risen more than 71% in the last 5 years, so it’s no wonder companies want to get a piece of the action.

        How to Spot Greenwashing

        Once you’ve got a basic understanding, telling green products from their dodgy alternatives isn’t too difficult. Granted, it can take some time, but if you’re serious about sustainability and giving money to truly eco-friendly companies, it’s worth it.

        Here are some useful tips for spotting greenwashing.

        1. Research the Company

        This might sound obvious, but the best place to start is by researching the company. If it’s truly eco-conscious, it should be happy to show its credentials on its website. For example, see if it’s certified as a B Corporation, Fair Trade, or Cradle to Grave.

        If you can’t find any information on their website, try reaching out to the company. You could contact their customer service department or use their social media pages. Any company that claims to make sustainable products should be happy to share its information.

        Of course, not being able to find information about a company’s credentials doesn’t always mean it’s greenwashing. Try looking at things such as the packaging a company uses and whether it states any commitments to environmental initiatives. Use this as a starting point before making your way down this list.

        2. Understand the Buzzwords

        The green sustainability industry is full of buzzwords. Granted, some are pretty easy to understand, such as recyclable (in theory). Others are more complicated because there’s no regulation around what they actually mean. These include:

        We don’t have a legal definition for what this means regarding a company. It could mean carbon net zero or zero waste. Alternatively, it could mean nothing at all.

        Again, this doesn’t actually mean anything. In theory, it means something isn’t harmful to the environment, but this isn’t regulated by law.

        You can probably spot a theme here. These terms are essentially just adjectives that we commonly associate with environmentally-friendly products, despite not really meaning anything.

          On the other hand, some terms do have meaning and legal regulation. For example:

          Carbon net zero
          According to The Law Society, carbon net zero means a company’s CO2 emissions are equal to or less than the amount they’re removing. They could be doing this through emissions reduction or carbon offsetting.

          Zero waste
          This means a company’s waste products are as low as possible. Note, it doesn’t have to mean it doesn’t produce waste, but rather that it’s part of a circular economy that focuses on reusing, reducing and recycling.

          Biodegradable means an organic product can be broken down by bacteria or other microorganisms over a period of time. Technically, plastic is biodegradable - it just takes a long time. The EU standard for biodegradable products states that they must have completely broken down within 6 months. Look for packaging made from products such as plant-based plastic, or even old-fashioned cardboard.

            As you can see, eco buzzwords are a bit of a minefield. The best advice is to see which terms a company is using and how they compare to the above list. But you should also look at what certifications a company has, including some of the examples listed in point 1.

            3. Look at the Product Range

            Spend some time investigating a company’s product range. A great example of this in action is cleaning products. Many larger household brands have started selling biodegradable and “green” products while continuing to sell their standard range in single-use plastics.

            On the other hand, smaller and newer companies sell ready-to-mix cleaning products and reusable storage items. Ideally, look for companies that do away with plastic altogether and make their long-life storage containers from glass or metal.

            4. Check Third-Party Verification

            Ideally, an eco-conscious brand should have third-party verification from an independent source. You should be able to find this on the company’s website or on product packaging. Depending on how transparent a company is, you might even get the full report from the third-party company. This sort of testing is useful for verifying claims such as “eco-friendly” or “biodegradable”. Again, if you can’t find anything obvious, contact the company to see if it’ll provide this information.

            5. Be Prepared to Invest

            Sometimes, if you want to truly guarantee that you’re not buying into greenwashing, you’ll have to accept that you need to spend a bit more time and/or money. This could be because you need to shop with a smaller brand or because base ingredients are more expensive.

            Of course, this isn’t always the case. For example, you’ll often find shopping in a zero-waste store is cheaper than buying individual products from a supermarket. You still need to invest in the right containers, but after that, it should be a bit cheaper.

            It helps to shop around and compare prices offered by truly sustainable brands. You can do this while researching their credentials and put all the information together to find the best brand for your needs.