Hopefully, by now, we are becoming more aware of this phenomenon and seeing the capitalistic evil behind it. Greenwashing is when companies use strategic design, packaging, and rhetoric in their branding and consumer communications to allude to their efforts to be more sustainable, clean, and eco-friendly, when in actuality, they are not doing much, if anything, for the environment or with our health in mind.
There are a few tried and true (and painfully obvious) tactics that have been overused, but there are some more nuanced signs to look out for. Here are a few for reference.
Literally using the color green
If you’ve ever seen the color green used to allude to a clean product without any of the proof, then you’ve seen greenwashing. Perhaps an illustrated leaf is used in the branding and packaging. Our minds automatically deduce that a product is better for us than a competitor based on seeing the color green or a leaf. That doesn’t make us stupid; it makes us conditioned, and trusting. Make sure to read ingredients on the label and look into the company’s policies before drawing purchase-power conclusions.
So many companies hang their hat on the claim that their product is vegan. While this may be good news for vegans, in a lot of cases, it doesn’t necessarily make their products safe, clean, healthy, or good for the environment. While no animals may have been harmed directly in the process, many of the chemicals and additives are toxic to the environment and our bodies. Also, so often, these vegan ingredients are derived from resources that animals rely on, which harms them in another way.
Sneaky uses of the word “recyclable”
Do some double-duty research before purchasing a product that says it’s recyclable, because often that claim, even if it exists in bold print, can quite literally mean the package it came in, and not the product itself. Think reusable items like a shower curtain, or even non-reusable items like a trash bag. How often are we rinsing and drying our used trash bags and taking them to a facility? Nice try on that selling point.
Omitting material information
Many labels stake “free of” claims, making them sound enticing in comparison to other products that may contain said compounds and chemicals. However, a particular ingredient can still be deceptively toxic if the product, package, or service contains or uses a substance that poses similar environmental risks. This tactic is especially stealthy, as it requires that we as consumers do more extensive ingredient research.
Other than being diligent about checking our labels, we can start by researching company standards and practices. This starts with looking into things like: who is the CEO? Who are their clients? Investors? How do they treat their workers? Where do they source ingredients? Try looking them up on EWG or the FTC for guidelines and informed ratings. It’s up to us to look beyond the cheesy leaf illustrations and green sheen.
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