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Greenwashing: What It Is and How to Avoid It (2024 Guide)

Have you noticed the rise in popularity of green products and services over the last few years? Chances are you’ve seen labels like “eco-friendly”, “all-natural”, “organic”, and many others on a lot of products. But why is that?

The answer is simple: Every year, more consumers consider the environmental impact of their purchases. What’s more, they’re willing to pay more for sustainable options.

So, it’s not surprising that more businesses are trying to be more “eco-friendly”. Unfortunately, some of them prefer to lie instead of actually going green.

This is known as “greenwashing” and we, the team at Zero Zen, are here to help you understand this term! But more importantly, you will learn how to avoid “greenwashed products”.

So, let’s dive right in!

What is Greenwashing?

Greenwashing happens when a company makes false claims to make people believe it’s eco-friendly. Even though they might say their practices or ingredients are good for the environment, it’s just a marketing tactic.

Instagram Screenshot - Greenwashing - Graphic - Definition

But what does this mean? In simple terms, these companies offer products and services that aren’t as eco-friendly as they want you to believe.

Instead of making a real difference for the environment, they pretend to be sustainable to deceive their customers and make more profit.

If you want to learn more about this awful practice, check some examples of greenwashing below!

3 Simple Examples of Greenwashing

When going green, it’s easy to get confused by buzzwords like “eco-friendly”, “natural”, “sustainable”, and many others. The truth is that most green words and phrases aren’t regulated. And some companies take advantage of this to confuse their eco-conscious consumers!

Wondering what greenwashing looks like? Here are three simple examples:

1: Poorly Described Claims

Some companies use vague terms like “eco-friendly” without explaining why their products are better for the environment. These claims leave room for misinterpretation!

Take the phrase “all-natural”, for example. The word “natural” might be eye-catching, but it doesn’t necessarily mean the product is good for nature or that it has been made in a way that isn’t harmful to the environment.

2: Misleading Labels

Another common greenwashing strategy is to use misleading labels. Some companies use labels like “organic” or “certified” without being able to back up these claims.

If they don’t have a reliable third-party certification or any supportive information to prove their claims, they’re probably lying.

3: Lesser of Two Evils

The ‘lesser of two evils’ is another practice used to make a brand look more environmentally friendly than its competitors.

Even though their product is still harmful to the environment, they will make you believe that they’re better for nature than other options. For example, an organic cigarette would still cause some problems for you and the environment!

Check out this short video by Our Changing Climate that illustrates greenwashing in practice:

[youtube video=”mOpa8kd6fBI”]

Why is Greenwashing a Problem?

While greenwashing might seem like a harmless marketing strategy, it’s more complicated than that.

Deceiving customers is not only a terrible business practice, it also supports actions with negative impacts on the planet.

Greenwashing makes people believe that they’re doing their best to protect the environment. So, they won’t look for better alternatives. Instead, they will keep supporting companies that are hurting the Earth with their practices.

Simply put, greenwashing encourages non-eco-friendly habits for both the consumer and the companies that supply them.

How? Well, if there are no consequences and the practice still leads to higher profits, more companies will choose to deceive their customers rather than actually going green.

And consumers will continue to buy these products, without knowing that they’re supporting businesses that aren’t eco-friendly!

Screenshot - Greenwashing - Paper Bottle with Plastic Inner

Worse, it makes it harder for ethical consumers to find true eco-friendly options and differentiate between deceitful and honest companies.

Fortunately, there are some easy ways to avoid greenwashed products!

How Can You Avoid Greenwashing?

Now that you understand what greenwashing is, you’re probably wondering how to avoid it. If so, here are a few things you should keep in mind when making a consumer choice:

  1. Look Deeper into the Company’s Claims

If you feel like their claims sound too good to be true, double-check them. When you read labels like “sustainable” or “all-natural”, turn the product over and check if there’s more information about it.

Still have your doubts? Go check the company’s website and see if they provide some sort of proof about their sustainable practices. If the information is vague and unspecific, it’s probably greenwashing.

  1. Look for Certifications

Another easy way to make sure the company is being honest about its claims is to look for third-party certification labels.

Does the product say it’s made from organic cotton? Then, it should have Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS) certified labels to back up this claim.

Greenwashing - GOTS Label that certifies a product is organic

Does the product come from sustainably managed forests? Look for the label that says Forest Stewardship Council or FSC.

  1. Pay Attention to the Graphics

Similar to vague words, many greenwashed products use the color green to attract conscious consumers. They might even include flowers, leaves, and other nature scenes to make their product look more environmentally friendly than others.

So, even if they have all these beautiful signs of being earth-friendly, double-check their claims. You can even compare them with other products to find out if there’s any difference between them.

  1. Ask Questions

If you still have some doubts about a company, you can contact them to clear up the confusion.

When a company is truly sustainable, it will be more than happy to answer all your questions. Remember that transparency is part of being a sustainable company.

Besides, if there’s nothing to hide, this shouldn’t be a problem. On the other hand, if their answers are vague or they avoid your questions, you might want to look for another option!

Final Thoughts

As more people realize how important it is to take care of the environment, more dishonest companies will try to take advantage of greenwashing techniques. But here’s where you, as a consumer, have a powerful voice!

Keep in mind that the actions you take, and the purchases you make, can change how companies behave.

That’s why it’s key to avoid greenwashing and support companies that actually are working for a better planet.

About the Author: 

Zero Zen is a small family business with a passion for the world we live in. We love all things eco-friendly, natural, sustainable, and zero-waste so we decided to put our favorite products under one roof at the Zero Zen Store. If you would like to learn more about how to go green and live a sustainable lifestyle, we invite you to visit Zero Zen’s Eco Blog.

References and Useful Resources

Environmental Sciences Europe (Journal vol. 32): Concepts and Forms of Greenwashing: A Systematic Review

Waste Advantage Magazine: 5 Ways to Tell if a Product is Really Eco-Friendly

RHT Advisory, Inc: Greenwashing: How Corporate Responsibility Becomes a Business Risk

Turbo Future: Best Websites to Search for Eco-Friendly Products Online


Frequently Asked Questions

What is Greenwashing?

Greenwashing is when a company misrepresents its products or services as being ‘eco-friendly’ by making claims or suggestions that are not true. Check out the full article to see how and why companies do this, and how you can avoid buying greenwashed products.

How Can I Avoid Greenwashed Products?

Greenwashing can be blatant or it can be more subtle and difficult to identify. To verify a company’s ‘green credentials’ you can:
- Look into their claims and see if they provide any information to support their claims
- Look for reputable, third-part certifications that show the company has been assessed and accredited by a third party.
- Pay attention to graphics – many products are merely packaged to look like they’re a natural or eco-conscious product. Truly eco-friendly products have information that supports this on the packaging as well.
- Ask questions – if you’re unsure about a product, contact the company and verify their claims before you buy from them.
Read the full article for more info on how to spot greenwashing.  

How Can Companies Avoid Greenwashing?

1. Do Your Research - Research your products carefully before claiming they are green. Your starting point should be finding out green expectations of environmentalists and your consumers, then you can ensure you are meeting these expectations. You must remember it is important to look at your entire business chain, as being green does not start and end with the product alone.

2. Be Honest and Humble - Consumers will appreciate honesty, if your company or product is not 100% green, don't claim it is. Acknowledge the areas of your product or business that are not yet green and commit to working on it, don’t wait for others to point out the discrepancies. Being open and honest is key, if you have a product or aspect of the business that is not green, inform your customers about this, and let them know what you are doing to make this better.
3. Keep it Transparent - Make it easy for your customers to understand and check the green claims you are making. Are your green claims certified based on established ecolabels, methods, or experts? The information on your green claims and relevant details should be made accessible to the public.

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