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    Greenwashing: Who are they trying to impress?

    As more and more of us take responsibility for the planet’s general health, companies looking to profit from our consumer-guilt have flooded the market with so-called ‘green options’. The term greenwashing is more relevant than ever before and we are here to give you some context to the situation.

    So what is greenwashing?

    Greenwashing is a marketing ploy by companies to trick people into believing they are doing more to protect the environment than they really are.

    Companies who parade themselves as ‘green’ make unsubstantiated claims that they are ‘eco-friendly’, ‘ethical’, ‘sustainable’, and ‘socially responsible’ to sell products which have little to no environmental benefit.


    The ‘green’ alibi

    With 47% of American consumers willing to pay more for ‘green’ products, selling ‘sustainability’ has become big business.

    By marketing a product as guilt-free and ‘planet friendly’ companies can target every demographic of compassionate earth-dweller (with a disposable income) at once.

    More and more profit-hungry companies are slapping on the label ‘eco-friendly’ to get a piece of the market whilst making minimal effort to mitigate the impending climate disaster – and they get away with it.

    Companies rarely have to prove how environmentally responsible they really are, with many even placing their own ‘sustainable certification’ logos on packaging to make it appear that they have been rated ‘eco-friendly’ by a third party.

    They’ll use bogus labels like ‘biodegradable’, ‘compostable’ and ‘recyclable’ without telling consumers that the product actually needs the perfect conditions, weathering, and multiple years to break down.

    Greenwashing brands will heavily market one small aspect of their company where they’ve made a poor attempt to ‘go green’, whilst ignoring that their high-production business model that pushes over-consumption is unsustainable at its core.

    Distraction greenwashing

    Creating just one ‘green’ product or a ‘green’ line of clothing is a great way for companies to claw back their reputation after being called out for their bad environmental practices.

    This means many billion-dollar companies throw millions into marketing a single ‘eco’ product or range in the hope that it will distract from the unethical core of their business.

    This has seen tens of dairy and meat companies launch vegan products, and soda companies launch ‘eco’ versions of their products.

    Greenwashing is often very blatant, for some companies the only change they really make is to switch their packaging and marketing materials to the color green and add images of nature to their product to allude that it is ‘clean’.

    Greenwashing brands will heavily market one small aspect of their company where they’ve made a poor attempt to ‘go green’, whilst ignoring that their high-production business model that pushes over-consumption is unsustainable at its core.

    Performative activism

    In the age of social media, this is perhaps the most prevalent form of greenwashing.

    Brand’s social media channels will pop up on international Earth Day to provide broad statements about being ‘anti-climate change’, or they will claim to support ‘women’s rights’ and ‘social equality’.

    However, they fail to take any action where it counts by changing their damaging environmental behavior or offering safe working environments and a living wage to those on their production lines.

    A wolf in sheep’s clothing

    Today many billion-dollar companies know that they are not attractive to sustainable shoppers, so they choose to go incognito.

    These giants masquerade as small family-run businesses in order to distance themselves from their corporation’s greedy pollution of the earth.

    This can also come in the form of buyouts, with brands that began as eco-conscious passion projects being bought and squeezed for profit by larger companies with no real respect for the value of the natural world.

    According to Break Free From Plastic’s 2020 report Coca-Cola KO is the number one plastic polluter in the world, yet the company is responsible for ‘eco’ brands including Innocent smoothies, Peace Tea and Fairlife dairy.

    ‘Token’ sustainability

    If a product is designed to go out of fashion in just a few month’s time, then it is not eco-friendly.

    Similarly if it is designed as low quality, low cost, ‘disposable’ fashion – to last a year at the absolute maximum – then the item cannot be sustainable.

    This is often forgotten when companies use token gestures of ‘sustainability’ to greenwash items that they know full well are destined for landfill within a year or two.

    This can be seen in the rise of companies who claim to be selling clothes made from ‘conscious’ materials.

    As consumers make the sensible switch to organic cotton to stop pesticide pollution, a flurry of companies have begun offering ‘organic cotton’ products.

    In actual fact the products only contain a small percentage of organic fiber, usually 10% to 20%, that is mixed with conventional cotton.

    Pay attention to the fabric composition, 100% organic is the standard you should expect.

    The same is true of ‘recycled’ polyester, often this material includes a percentage of virgin polyester to strengthen the fabric and cannot be recycled at the end of its life.

    To give the pretense that they care for the environment many fast fashion brands have taken to calling polyurethane shoes and bags ‘vegan leather’, overlooking that the product is made from a polluting plastic that will take up to 500 years to decompose.

    Pay attention to the fabric composition, 100% organic is the standard you should expect.

    ‘Recycle me’

    Recycling is too often offered as a solution to ‘offset’ environmental damage caused by producing the product, when of course recycling does not negate any of the greenhouse gases or energy that has already been expended to make the product.

    Placing an emphasis on recycling is often a lazy ploy by businesses to pass the responsibility for ‘sustainability’ on to the consumer.


    How can you spot greenwashing?

    Look at what percentage of the brand’s products are ethically sourced, sustainable, or recycled. If it’s just one or two they may be trying to pull the wool over your eyes.

    How much information do they offer? Look for transparency on what specific factories, materials, social programs, and environmental policies the company has in place. Do they have a history of being unethical?

    Brands will often set ridiculously distant and unspecific ‘green’ goals to reduce their ‘carbon footprint’ by 2090 (or with no deadline at all).

    For the most part these are empty promises and only distract from the fact they are allowing their damaging behavior to continue in the present.

    Brands are experts in manipulating figures. For example, a company will say that it has reduced emissions by 15% in a year, when in fact they are calculating this per article of clothing and have ramped up production, releasing 30% more emissions overall. Don’t be fooled.

    Look for an all-round approach. Companies who truly give a sh*t will be transparent about their production processes and will be taking care to ensure that they use sustainable production processes, recycled or compostable packaging, non-toxic dyes, and sustainable fabrics.

    What can we do?

    The best thing we can do as consumers is to hold companies accountable by reading the small print and conducting our own research.

    If a previously unethical high-production company is now overselling its ‘sustainability’ virtues, there’s every possibility that it is manipulating the facts.

    Continue to hold large companies responsible for the damage they do by using your voice on social media, and support companies whose entire product range is 100% dedicated to the cause.

    Look for third-party certifications such as GOTS (Global Organic Textiles Standard), Fairtrade, Cradle to Cradle, and FSC (Forest Stewardship Council).

    If you see a logo you don’t recognize you can visit to verify that it is legit.

    Whilst any effort to reduce environmental impact is a step in the right direction, it is up to us to recognize and call out when billion-dollar companies are bragging about their ‘commitment to the environment’ while continuing to partake in earth-destroying practices for profit.

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