Here's how you can spot greenwashing in your everyday life. Spoiler alert: it can be sneaky!
Estimated reading time: 6 minutes
Greenwashing can be seen all around us. It is on billboards, TV commercials, YouTube ads, in magazines — the list goes on and on. Greenwashing refers to “misleading claims made by a company about its environmental credentials. They’re designed to hoodwink consumers” and can often be misleading. So, we’re here to help you look out for signs of greenwashing!
Here’s what we’ll cover step-by-step:
It’s time to wash away all these ambiguous claims on sustainability and discover the truth for ourselves.
🎯 Action step 1 of 4: READ — Let's start by looking at a few articles together.
Greenwashing makes it difficult for us to distinguish what’s real and what’s misleading. Here are three articles for a quick crash course on greenwashing to get you warmed up. Read our key takeaways below!
Why do companies greenwash?
Greenwashing is a way for companies to falsely promote themselves, “Research shows, again and again, that expressing greenness can be beneficial for companies and brands,” said Menno D.T. de Jong, a communications professor at the University of Twente in the Netherlands. Greenwashing is also often really hard to disprove. Companies know they can tout sustainability and make more money. Most of us fall for greenwashing claims when we see them. (NYT)
Are corporate climate pledges a great greenwash?
Oil companies are geniuses when it comes to greenwashing, and of course, since fossil fuels are destroying our planet, this is deadly. BP recently made a “net-zero ambition”, and this plan is… sucky, to put it informally. It’s really easy for companies to make pledges, so they do. The question is, do they follow through? Answer: About half don’t. (Grist)
What are the 7 sins of greenwashing?
Keep in mind that these seven sins are subjective, but they’re good indicators. One is the “sin of vagueness” — “All-natural is an example. Arsenic, uranium, mercury, and formaldehyde are all naturally occurring, and poisonous”. The 6 other sins can be found here. (UL)
The World Economic Forum also has this nice summary article on how to spot greenwashing. If we had to recommend ONE read on this topic, it wouldn’t actually be about greenwashing at all. It’d be about critical thinking and discerning.
🏁 Checkpoint: This is the end of action step 1 of 4: READ.
🎯 Action step 2 of 4: LISTEN — we'll watch a short video or listen to a podcast to further expand on our topic.
See how greenwashing works through your own eyes. Let’s take a quick break from reading and watch this video covering Why Companies Need to Greenwash.
You’ll learn that:
🏁 Checkpoint: This is the end of action step 2 of 4: LISTEN.
🎯 Action step 3 of 4: ACT — Now it's time to do something. Let's go!
It can be overwhelming trying to figure out what products are truthful and which ones are greenwashing. To make things easy, here are some tips to help you spot and act on greenwashing.
1. Learn how to talk about it.
Greenwashing goes under the radar because we don’t know how to recognize it. And if we do, we don’t know how to address it. By reading and sharing this blog, you’re off to a great start!
2. Spot dirty ingredients.
When you download this Think Dirty app, you can scan your household products and understand what ingredients are in them. This app works with a lot of health and beauty related products such as shampoos and soaps. They have almost 2 million products in their database. This is great because we should understand what’s going on in our bodies!
3. Reduce your consumption.
It seems like an obvious action, but greenwashing’s main aim is to get us to buy MORE under the guise that we’re being “more sustainable”. You might be frustrated at the lack of direction with an action like “reduce your consumption”, so here’s something specific that you can do and share with your friends, at least when it comes to navigating the greenwashed world of clothing. Use the #30WearsTest. It’s really simple. You ask yourself: would I wear this item 30 times? If so, you can buy it. This tip is helpful when out shopping with friends and providing them insight on what to buy.
4. Ask these questions when you buy or see an ad.
Critical thinking is THE biggest defense we have against greenwashing, at least until we pass stronger policy. Think about the following:
Often, you’ll see images of cute animals, earthy tones, words like “green” and “eco-friendly” being thrown around. The biggest thing you can look for, though, is transparency. If a company hides its ingredients or makes claims that are hard to verify, it’s probably greenwashing.
5. Discover ethical brands.
Goodonyou.eco rates fashion brands through a thorough methodology that includes people, planet, and animals. They have a website and app that uses publicly available data (because “transparency promotes accountability” as they say on their website, and we agree) to help consumers navigate how to make our dollars matter.
Most of us don’t think about what’s happening to the hundreds of thousands (or more) of dollars sitting in retirement/savings. That money is likely invested in the very companies that promote greenwashing and climate destruction, and the good news is, it’ll take you less than an hour to change that.
While we aren’t the ones entirely to blame, we have the power to be conscious of our consumption and put our money where our mouth is.
🏁 Checkpoint: This is the end of action step 3 of 4: ACT.
Before we go any further, it's time for you to pledge your commitment. It takes less than 30 seconds to pledge and we can bother you about it in a friendly way, so we can hold each other accountable. Pledge here!
🎯 Action step 4 of 4: REFLECT — what can you commit to? What fresh perspectives can we look at?
Advertisers are wreaking havoc on our brains. Grist, reports on a new word for an old phenomenon: nature-rinsing. Trickery prevails.
Let's talk about nature-rinsing. This is the term for polluting companies using nice happy pristine images of nature to show us that they care about the environment.
Here's a quote from the article:
"Nature-rinsing is nearly as ubiquitous as nature itself: According to the new report, written in collaboration with researchers at the nonprofit Algorithmic Transparency Institute at the National Conference on Citizenship, environment-related visuals made an appearance in 97 percent of posts from airlines this summer, and well over half of posts from automakers (64 percent) and oil companies (56 percent). “I was shocked by the scale of it when we actually started to quantify it,” Supran said."
And here's what nature-rinsing looks like (you've probably seen it everywhere before):
The caption shows off how this new plane uses some shark-like technology to fly better, not mentioning that aviation heavily pollutes the environment. If you interested in learning more, check out the article on how polluters use natural beauty to clean up their image. It's a lot to think about.
The most important thing we can do right now is talk about the crisis we're in. We must boost our critical thinking skills, learn to talk to each other about what truly matters, and share our ideas in a way that doesn't shut down the creative parts of our brains.
🏁 Checkpoint: This is the end of action step 4 of 4: REFLECT.
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