Concerns about sustainability and the effects of global warming have led consumers to demand more “green” products that are less harmful to the environment or their health. Research by the American Chemistry Council has shown this, for example 83% of people think it is important that companies develop environmentally friendly products72% said they were actively buying more of these products than five years ago.
Other research supports these results. Ad Age reported in early 2020 that younger consumers, especially Millennials and Gen Z, are the same willing to pay more for environmentally friendly products. No wonder, then, that companies have taken these trends to heart and are actively looking for ways to make their products more attractive to consumers by promoting their environmental friendliness. Products that are supposedly “green”, “natural”, “organic” and more fill the shelves of almost every retailer.
But are these products as pure and environmentally friendly as they are supposed to be? Or do consumers fall victim to marketing tricks and gimmicks that lead them to believe that products are “greener” than them? The fact is, a number of companies are greenwashing and unsuspecting customers may fall for false claims and potentially put their health and the health of the planet at risk.
What is greenwashing?
Greenwashing is the practice of convincing consumers that a particular product is a healthy or sustainable alternative to more conventional products when it is not. Companies use these methods, which often include eco-friendly buzzwords like “recycled,” “organic,” “natural,” “pure” or “botanical” on labels or packaging, to attract customers looking for healthier or less harmful options. Other companies may highlight eco-friendly initiatives in their company in order to distinguish themselves as environmentally friendly.
Greenwashing can be found in almost every industry, but is particularly common in the beauty and personal care, household cleaning, and fashion industries. In addition to using buzzwords, companies involved in greenwashing can change the packaging of products or their broader marketing approach to make it appear that they are a healthier or greener option. While some of the claims may be true, in many cases the green aspects of their products or practices are overdone to attract consumers.
Examples of greenwashing
Greenwashing is so widespread today that it is more difficult than ever to determine which products are truly environmentally friendly and which are simply marketed as such. There are some clues to look for, however.
Greenwashing often includes general terms such as “natural” or “sustainable”, especially in the beauty industry. Just because an ingredient is natural or organic doesn’t mean it’s healthy. Finally, poisons like arsenic are natural too. Using these words along with packaging that supports an image of sustainability – for example, using amber glass pharmacy-style bottles for creams, pictures of leaves and flowers on the label, or selling products in kraft paper boxes with handwritten fonts – can support this Perception that a product is more sustainable than it is.
Consumers need to look beyond packaging and marketing language to see what the generic and vague language actually means. Reading labels is the first place to start. For example, an eye cream can claim to be botanical, but a look at the ingredients could reveal that botanical extracts make up less than 10% of the formula. The best eye creams There are clear ingredient lists and labels to make it easier for you to see what is actually in them. In general, companies that are really committed to sustainability and green initiatives educate themselves about their initiatives and ingredients by clearly listing the ingredients of the products (and highlighting what happens) Not in the product) by using environmentally friendly packaging and labeling it as such and providing clear, reasoned information.
While the Federal Trade Commission does not regulate environmentally friendly claims, it does voluntary guidelines this caution against general claims that cannot be substantiated and the recommendation that claims be made clear, specific and outstanding. However, these guidelines leave a lot of leeway, and it is up to consumers to uncover the true meaning of generic statements.
No proof of sustainability
Companies could try to create a perception that they are using sustainable practices such as recycling, using renewable energies or carbon offsetting measures. A truly green company will willingly share information publicly, using quantifiable data, photos or videos to make sustainable products, as well as seals of approval from various organizations that have confirmed their commitment to sustainability.
To confirm a company is committed to sustainability, visit their website or ask questions. For example, if they claim to be using renewable energy sources, clarify what type of energy (i.e. wind or sun) and how much energy comes from those sources. Learn the nuances between common terminology, such as: B. the difference between “renewable” and “recyclable” to ensure you fully understand a company’s business practices.
Lack of corporate transparency
Companies that lack evidence of their sustainability efforts and that engage in greenwashing are generally less transparent about their practices than legitimate green companies. In addition to reading their website for quantifiable evidence, check out the organization’s social media profiles, news articles, and press releases to self-assess their sustainability practices.
There is a profound difference between companies that allow sustainability to guide any decision and companies that pay lip service to healthy practices. For example, only recognizing sustainability on occasions like Earth Day. Really green companies make every aspect of their brand sustainable and this is evident in their communications.
Avoid common ingredients
The best way to avoid falling victim to greenwashing, especially when it comes to skin care and beauty products, is to learn to read labels and identify ingredients that are unethical, harmful, or otherwise unnecessary.
Some of the most common ingredients to look out for when avoiding greenwashing are:
- Plastic packaging. Although some companies use greenwash with alternative forms of packaging, it is a good idea to avoid plastic packaging as much as possible to reduce plastic pollution. Whenever possible, choose products packaged in other materials or refillable options. If plastic is the only option, make sure it is recyclable.
- Sun protection. Wearing sunscreen is a must, but many commercial sunscreens and moisturizers contain ingredients that damage coral reefs. Choose Zinc-based sun protection options instead.
- Scent added. Not only does the term “synthetic fragrance” allow companies to keep their formulas secret, which reduces transparency, but using products that contain unnecessary fragrances can be detrimental to your health and marine life. Choose products like lotions that use natural fragrance or perfume-free facial cleansers instead.
- Palm oil. Commonly used in moisturizers, soaps, and detergents, palm oil is an effective skin protector, but its harvest contributes to deforestation, climate change, and pollution. Choose moisturizers Made from sustainably sourced palm oil or alternatives such as shea or jojoba.
- Triclosan. Triclosan is an antibacterial agent used in soaps, disinfectants, and other products that helps develop superbugs. Soap and water work just as well.
- Silicones. Face glasses as well as make-up and hair products are mixed with silicones as smoothing agents. However, silicones can get into the water supply Choose skin care products that contain other oils that are not as harmful.
Other ingredients to look out for may be harmful, including mineral oil, sulfates, parabens, phthalates, and toluene. Many of these ingredients in cosmetics and skin care products are derived from petroleum, which is not only harmful to the environment but also to your health. Choose detergents tonerand makeup made without these ingredients.
How companies implement green initiatives
Not all companies that offer more environmentally friendly products practice greenwashing. Many are genuinely committed to making environmentally friendly and health friendly products and have taken eco-friendly initiatives, including:
- Switching to more sustainable production methods, from material procurement to shipping.
- Use sustainable or recycled materials for packaging, including non-toxic inks.
- Switching to renewable energy sources.
- Use of economical vehicles for deliveries.
- Design of production facilities, warehouses and retail locations as sustainable and energy efficient as possible; For example, with environmentally friendly paints and recycled or reclaimed materials.
- Development of company-wide recycling initiatives.
- Donate money and time for sustainability initiatives.
If you pay attention to greenwashing and make the conscious choice to support companies that really care about sustainability, you can make a real difference and, ultimately, deter companies from engaging in misleading and unethical practices.