Becoming a green consumer is a laudable goal. Everyone should be doing their part to protect the planet, after all it’s the only one we have. However, unless you are sourcing every material and ingredient for everything you consume, how can you be sure your products are sustainable?
It’s important to understand why companies might engage in the types of deceptive practices that are behind greenwashing, and understand what greenwashing is.
What is it, and why do it?
Greenwashing is the practice of a company making claims and suggestions about it’s products being environmentally friendly or sustainable, but not actually living up to their claims.
Sometimes a company has set goals but have not figured out a way to transition to better production methods or materials. Many times, though adapting or building new supply chains, assembly lines, or using new materials can cost a lot of money, and it’s a decision based in profits or shareholder commitments.
What they may do is use misleading language, catch phrases, or deceptive marketing to trick consumers into believing their products take the environment into consideration. They play on consumer interest in protecting the environment without doing the work needed to back it up.
Knowing what greenwashing is key to making informed decisions about purchasing products from a conscious source, but how can you tell?
Look for Transparency
As time goes by more companies are buying into the idea of transparency in the supply chain, and within their corporate practices and governance.
Look for companies that put their contact information front and centre, and don’t be afraid to reach out to them. A company that engages in transparent practices won’t have problems providing potential customers about their environmental commitments or social responsibility.
Watch out for companies that may try to bury their contact information or try to hide their initiatives behind the guise of protecting trade secrets. If a company makes a claim, they should be willing to provide information to that claim.
Some companies go a step further and build their businesses around transparency and partner with organizations to help them. retraced is one such organization. What they do is help brands in the fashion industry make informed choices about where their materials come from, how they’re produced, and what factories are making them.
Check for Certifications
Certifications are usually a good way to quickly check if a product is meeting an industry standard. When an organization like Peta, Non-GMO Project, or USDA Organic put their seal of approval on things it’s done with standardized inspection of their facilities and their production lines.
However, just because a company lacks certifications doesn’t mean they aren’t meeting or exceeding environmental standards or are making false claims. Many standards are location based, and different parts of the world may have more or fewer restrictions when it comes to meeting standards.
For example, European standards for organic products are much more stringent than those in North America, so even companies that may not meet the standards overseas may in fact exceed those in North America.
Additionally, some certifications cost companies money, and it may be a financial challenge if the company is small or just starting out.
Visit a company’s website
If you’re unsure, make sure to check out their website. Companies who invest in environmental stewardship, or sustainability programs will usually have some sort of documentation of the work there are doing, or even how you can help with their outreach initiatives.
These programs may be partnerships they’ve developed with charities or NGOs, or internal programs they’ve created to help support causes important to them.
Their websites may even provide information about who produces their products, whether they are made in-house, or produced overseas. They may even get into the specifics of the towns or factories they are made in.
Red flags for greenwashing may be the use of buzzwords, or claims of environmental practices, with no information that backs them up.
Why it’s important for companies to avoid greenwashing
Greenwashing is deceptive. Regardless of the reasons why a company may do it, greenwashing is lying to consumers.
In the end business is based on reputation and if a brand is caught engaging in greenwashing it has the potential to damage their reputation beyond repair.
If companies want to grow their business, they must engage in practices that are honest and open with their customers. In the past deceptive techniques were much easier to get away with, but in the age of social media negative stories can spread quickly. It’s in a brands best interest to avoid it at all costs.
Important Take Aways
While it might not be in a company’s best interest to engage in greenwashing, money can be a compelling force. Greed causes businesses, investors, and even consumers to engage in practices they might not otherwise.
Consumers are often treated poorly, and realistically the onus shouldn’t be on them to engage in due diligence to ensure the products in their lives have minimal impact on the environment.
Things like certifications and transparency help provide consumers with the information to make informed decision to help protect the planet for future generations.