4Rs Tips for 03.05.2023 – Don’t Get Conned:  3 Common Types of Greenwashing

Is it greenwashing? How to know if a company is pretending to be green.

Today, I wanted to share some tips on how to know if a company is greenwashing.

But first…
I often drop a Take Action section at the end because, quite frankly, the time to act is now. I’ll continue to do this, with a shout-out here on an upcoming action like this one on March 21st.

  • Third Act’s National Day of Action is about stopping the funding of fossil fuels with our hard-earned money. THIS IS IMPORTANT. Read more about it in the Take Action section below.

Greenwashing Means Misdirection

You’ve probably heard the expression greenwashing, but do you know what it means? Wikipedia tells us that greenwashing is when companies spend more to tell us their green than they spend on actually being green.

They spend the green to LOOK green,
but they don’t spend it to BE green.

The goal of marketing a product is to make it attractive to you, the consumer, and that includes you, the planet lover. They need to make their products sound planet friendly. Unfortunately, what they say and do doesn’t always make them green. You have to dig deeper to make sure they aren’t greenwashing.

3 common ways companies misdirect us into believing they’re sustainable

  • They plant trees. That’s great, but does it make a difference?
    • Planting trees doesn’t mean much if a company’s operations are damaging the environment. One does not make up for the other.
      • Companies need to reduce their impact from manufacturing and operations or tree planting doesn’t make much difference.
    • Are they covering up for bad environmental practices, like chemical usage and waste habits?
      • A responsible company discloses chemical use, emissions, and waste reduction practices. 
    • Are the trees protected or will they be cut down once they grow?
      • Industries, such as beef and palm, cut down 25.3 Mha* of trees in 2021. That’s over 62 million acres. (*Mha = million hectares)
  • A company emphasizes that they use recycled content.
    • But when you look at a product description, it only contains 5 – 10% recycled materials.
      • Even if they say they use 50% recycled content, you need to consider that the rest is virgin and likely comes from fossil fuels.
        • Plastics, polyesters, nylon, and vinyl, these are examples of materials that are derived from fossil fuels.
    • They promote their use of green materials but not ALL materials they use are sustainable.
      • Often when you look at the contents of a product or the materials used, only one or two ingredients are responsibly sourced.
        • This is fine if those are the majority of the product’s content, like a cotton sweater, but sometimes it’s a small amount. 
        • Transparent manufacturers provide a materials list and tell how much of each is in the product.
          • For products, like food, this is usually required by law.
  • They make a big deal out of their charitable work or contributions to environmental groups, but they continue unhealthy practices.
    • I’m a big fan of corporate dollars going to environmental groups (1% for the Planet is great!). But, like with tree planting, if a company isn’t fixing the damage done by their factories, funding environmental causes doesn’t matter.
      • They need to stop doing the things that damage the environment.

We all need to change how we do things.
Not just people, but companies too!

So what do we do? How can we stop buying from companies that are greenwashing and start buying from companies that are supporting change?

What We Should Expect From A Sustainable Company

If a company claims they are sustainable we need to see proof. They should provide this in the Sustainability section of their website, which can also be their Responsibility page or their ESG (Environmental & Social Governance) section. Here’s what to look for:

  • Use of sustainable materials
    • Low-impact sourcing, production, and consideration for end-of-life impact from their products.
  • Transparency about supply chain and labor practices.
    • Being sustainable includes providing a living wage and good conditions.
  • Cruelty-free and vegan (no animal testing or animal bi-products).
  • Safe and non-toxic to humans and the environment.
  • Thoughtful packaging that is reduced and recyclable.
  • Green business practices (e.g. powered by renewable energy, water, and waste management initiatives).
  • Community & charitable giving programs.

But why would we trust this information when it comes from the company? We shouldn’t.

Is your favorite brand greenwashing?

A critical path to calling a company “green” is proof that they’re working to reduce its impact. There are organizations they can join that will monitor their operations and verify they are doing it. There are also several websites that review and analyze how sustainable a brand is.

Here are some organizations that monitor and certify companies as sustainable. They offer a way to search by brand name.

These sites do reviews on how sustainable companies are. Check and see what they’ve uncovered about your favorite brands.

  • Good On You – where thousands of brands are rated for how planet-friendly they are.
  • Impactful Ninja –  provides reviews and insights on all aspects of living sustainably.
  • Sustainable Jungle – Reviews products for sustainability and more resources on greenwashing.
  • Earth911 – loaded with articles and tips on how to buy more sustainable products.

With all these resources and a few minutes of your time, you can quickly check before your next purchase how eco-friendly the product is.

Take Action

We as individuals have a lot of power, especially when we all Take Action.

Massive Action = Massive Results

These coming-up actions may be easy for you, or they may be hard, but I hope you will consider taking at least one of them.

  • On March 21st, Third Act’s National Day of Action is about telling financial institutions that we no longer want our money invested in the fossil fuel industry, It’s a day where we change how we bank and invest so we are part of a greener future.
    • The world’s biggest banks invested 3.8 TRILLION dollars in fossil fuel companies since 2015.
    • Where we bank matters. Banks make money by investing what we put in our accounts.
      • Many of us are unknowingly funding the destruction of our environment. 
    • I’m participating since I learned the bank I’ve been with for over ten years is number one on the list.
      • I’ve been researching it for the past few months and am in the process of switching to Aspiration for my banking. They offer all the services of my old bank.
    • Learn more about banking alternatives in this article from Sustainable Jungle.
  • Earth Hour – March 25th  This is the easiest action anyone can and should do (spread the word). At 8:30 pm, in whatever time zone you’re in, on March 25th switch off ALL lights and electrical items for ONE HOUR. That’s it.
    • Pull out a flashlight or light a candle and read a book.
    • Have a conversation with your kids or partner.
    • I know people who just go to bed early.
  • Though it’s important to care for the earth every day, April 22nd is Earth Day. And it really is about learning how to make every day Earth Day.
    • Invest in the Planet is the theme this year. They have this Action Toolkit for you to find events and other actions you can take.

Why It’s Important

Manufacturers know they need to make products you will buy. That means if you only buy products that you can verify are responsibly made that’s what they’ll make.

We’re past the time when we can simply buy whatever they put on the shelves. Companies won’t be responsible for how they make products until we tell them we require them. This is the power of our wallets.

If people only buy products that are verified to be sustainable, companies making similar products will be forced to become sustainable.

With Much Gratitude

That’s it for this issue. I’ll be continuing my bi-weekly schedule of gathering tips to share with you on how to Reduce, Reuse, and Rethink Recycling. So, see you in two weeks. 

If you like this post, please forward it to every earth-friendly human you know. 

If you like this blog and find it helpful, please consider supporting my continued work here.

Drop me a line anytime if you have questions or comments. I love hearing from you.

Thank you for reading these tips and subscribing. Pat yourself on the back for doing your part. Remember, everything helps.

We’ve got this!

All my best,

Sign-up to receive these weekly 4Rs posts

Success! You're on the list.