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Have you ever heard the term “greenwashing”? Chances are you’ve definitely seen this marketing tactic in action. The term refers to when companies provide misleading information about how environmentally friendly their products/business are.

Perhaps one of the most identifiable examples are various bottled water companies showing images of nature and hiking in their commercials. It is as if they are showing that this is what their company stands for, when in reality they are one of the leading contributors of single use plastic. Rather than spending money on actually becoming more sustainable, companies are simply spending money to deceive us consumers. As the sustainability movement increases so does the amount of greenwashing.

Companies are taking advantage of the consumers goals to make positive changes and are ultimately just destroying the planet further. But major companies have a lot of money, therefore most of them have pretty convincing PR and marketing teams. This means that it can be incredibly difficult to decipher which companies are greenwashing and which are actually making positive changes.

So how can you try to tell the difference?

Companies that are actually striving to make positive changes are often very proud and open about their efforts, as they should be. They provide a CLEAR message about how their item is made, the products used, and the entire supply chain involved. An example would be Stay Wild Swim. On their website they CLEARLY state their sustainability practices:

They go on to clearly layout the standards upheld at their factory, the actions they have taken to limit the microplastics coming from their garments and their sustainability goals for the future. THIS is what true sustainability looks like. On the other hand, greenwashing is all about making vague claims not backed up by hard facts or plans of action.

Many fast fashion brands, like H&M, have released their own “green” line of clothing which really is the epitome of greenwashing. The “Conscious.” H&M line claims to be using organic cotton and recycled polyester but has no facts to back up these claims. There are no clear mentions of HOW these garments are produced or the working conditions of their employees. When a company is incredibly vague about their supposedly eco-friendly practices, it is reason to question their validity.

But how can companies make such false claims? The Federal Trade Commission provides loose guidelines when it comes to greenwashing. There aren’t base guidelines for when a company can use terms like “sustainable” or “eco-friendly”. This means that it is ultimately up to us consumers to decipher.

So, what can we do to make sure we are supporting companies that are actually doing their part to be sustainable?

  1. Read the label/ check the website: Look for CLEAR claims about how the product is made, the practices put in place and the sustainability efforts being made. No wishy-washy claims about being “good for the planet”; look for facts.

  2. Reputable Certifications: If a company is claiming to be ethically sourced, check to if they have been certified. For example, have they been Fair Trade Certified? When checking certifications, it is also important to check the validity of these claims. Some major corporations have created their own departments that will "certify" their statements. But biases like these are only furthering their efforts to greenwashing their company and their products.

  3. Slogans/Branding: Just because a company says they are “ethical” may not mean much at all. More and more companies are coming out with simplistic packaging that helps convince consumers that they are making a “green” choice. Branding is meant to convey a message, so do your research and make sure that the company’s actions align with their message.

  4. Support truly sustainable companies as much as possible: often the products of companies that are making sustainable changes cost more money. While it may be tempting to always buy the cheapest option, it’s important to think about WHY it is so cheap in the first place. A jacket from Patagonia is going to cost significantly more than one from H&M. However, one of these is made by an ethical company who pays their workers living wages, and focuses on climate action while the other is…well fast fashion. Obviously, Patagonia isn’t in most people’s budgets which is why buying second hand can be a great option. I own many fast fashion garments that I have bought second hand this way I know I am not directly supporting an unsustainable company.

Greenwashing is apparent in practically every single industry. So much so that it can be quite overwhelming. The first step is to simply acknowledge that greenwashing exists and do your part to make as educated purchases as possible. Ask companies questions about their sustainability practices and see what their response is: clear facts about the actions they are taking or simply vague answers to try and trick consumers?

A truly sustainable company will be clear about their practices, something that all companies should strive to achieve.


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