It's time we have the talk about greenwashing. It is happening right before our eyes, and we need to know how to hold corporations accountable and sift through what is a marketing ploy and what is a real pledge to be environmentally responsible.
Simply put, greenwashing is an expression for environmental concern and/or marketing spins to persuade the general public into thinking an organization's goals, products, and policies are environmentally friendly when they're not.
Believe me when I say that coming to terms with greenwashing can be hard. Zara sales used to make me squeal like a fan at a Justin Bieber concert. However, if we truly love these companies and want what's best for our planet and the people, we have to start holding fast-fashion brands and big corporations accountable.
Once you've seen one example, you'll notice that a lot of corporate giants or fast-fashion companies are participating in this PR stunt. They use words like "green," "eco-friendly," "organic" with little to no meaning or action behind them.
The truth is, when companies market themselves as environmentally responsible, it makes the consumer feel better about their purchase. There are corporations truly making a positive impact on the environment (ahem, like the ones on our site), however there are also other corporations using marketing tactics to deceive their audiences. So how can we tell the difference?
Greenwashing comes down to two things: action and contradiction. If there is no real action supporting the promises of a company to implement more internal and external environmental practices, then there's your answer: it's greenwashing. Another great example is if a company says their clothes are made with 100% organic cotton, but then on average it takes up to 20,000 liters of water to make. That's contradictory, so there's your answer: it's greenwashing. Here's another one: a fast food chain switches to paper straws but still serves drinks in plastic-lined cups: g-r-e-e-n-w-a-s-h-i-n-g.
Our last bit of greenwashing 101 is going to point out some standard things to look out for:
If something seems too vague, it's probably because it is too vague. If a product or company doesn't provide detailed information on what makes them ethical or sustainable, then don't buy into it. Don't take claims at face value—you'll have to dig a little deeper to find evidence that backs up the claims of sustainable or earth-friendly practices.
While no company is perfect, it's important to see the big picture clearly. Be wary of over-marketed token acts of environmental responsibility. Don't let one thing like recyclable packaging cloud your judgement from what other things the company and their products create (ex: carbon emissions or poor worker conditions).
If something doesn't sit right with you about a brand, then your instinct might be telling you something. Once you notice greenwashing, point it out. You can change how products are made by demanding that companies do better.
Here are four questions you can remember to ask yourself in your future shopping endeavors:
- Where is the proof? Ex: “We recycle our products!” How much do they recycle? Where do they recycle?
- Is the language vague? Ex: “Our products are environmentally friendly!” ...followed by no details
- Is it relevant? Ex: “No testing on animals” when that is in fact illegal
- Is it a hidden tradeoff? Ex: Claiming a product is “green” because it comes in a recycled box, but ignoring the fact that it was created with exploitative conditions.