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Greenwashing: Don't Be Fooled

What is greenwashing and how can you spot it?

With the threat of climate change ominously looming on our minds, many brands are beginning to make the switch towards more sustainable choices. Whether that be changing from plastic to paper straws or utilising recyclable packaging, these seemingly small differences can help towards making a big change. However, some brands are negatively taking advantage of this by claiming to be eco-friendly, when in fact that couldn't be further from the truth.

What is greenwashing?

"A PR tactic used to make a company or product appear environmentally friendly, without meaningfully reducing its environmental impact." - Greenpeace

An example of greenwashing can be seen on many plastic water bottles. Brands such as Evian and Poland Spring often use imagery of nature which can trick consumers into believing the product is sustainable. Ironically, plastic bottles are one of the worst contributors to the climate crisis. It can be infuriating to see brands fool their customers to make a quick profit, as their acts are only continuing to contribute towards the problem.

Despite this, we are beginning to shift away from buying from large brands and companies and starting to gravitate towards small businesses. As a member of Generation Z, I am certainly noticing my peers and myself making more sustainably conscious decisions. An example of this includes the thrifting of clothing and visiting charity shops. These have without a doubt have become more popular among the younger crowd. The concerning issue of fast fashion has forced many of us to reflect and evaluate our choices when it comes to buying our clothing.

Unfortunately, brands catch onto this and falsely label their products as sustainable when they are not. The clothing giant H&M preaches that their products from the line 'Conscious' are sourced sustainably and ethically, but they use tactics to appear as though they do. In July 2022, H&M in fact had a lawsuit filed against them, accusing them of greenwashing. Chelsea Commodore, a SUNY New Paltz marketing student was the one to file the lawsuit. She claimed that -

"Several pieces of the brand’s Conscious Collection products were advertised as using less water to manufacture when they actually use more. H&M claims the discrepancy was the result of technical issues." - The Cut

How we can learn to spot greenwashing

It can certainly be difficult to spot if a product's packaging is an example of greenwashing. I have compiled together a list of the most common features that you can keep an eye out for.

  • Vague green-sounding words such as 'natural' and 'eco-friendly' can be a major red flag. While the use of these words may sway us into believing the product is sustainable, these words give us no information about its true environmental impact. Just because something is natural doesn't mean it's good for us. Arsenic occurs naturally but you wouldn't want to ingest it! Looking through the ingredients list will give you a better understanding on what the product really contains.

  • Images of nature can also be very misleading. They can trick us into believing that the product is environmentally friendly and perhaps vegan or animal cruelty free too. Try not to be deceived by nature imagery, it usually doesn't mean anything and is mostly utilised for decorative purposes.

  • A lack of transparency and proof on their sustainability claims are also a cause for concern. If you are finding it difficult to find any statistics or studies to back up their claims, this can indicate that their claims are just a façade. Don't be fooled by their empty affirmations.

With gaining an understanding on what greenwashing is, our power as consumers can help to prevent companies using superficial marketing to trick us into purchasing their products. Your money is precious and valuable so hopefully these tips will help you to place it somewhere more meaningful.


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