What is Greenwashing:
Over the years, as we’ve embarked on living a more sustainable, zero waste lifestyle we’ve come across one all too common trend – greenwashing. If you’re not familiar, greenwashing is false marketing that dresses something up as more natural, eco-friendly, or sustainable than it really is. Many brands invest lots of money into marketing to portray themselves as being eco-friendly, instead of actually implementing greener practices. For us, sustainability is about more than reusable coffee cups, which is why a product’s ingredients, materials, sourcing (and more!) really matter to us.
How to Spot It:
The tricky part about greenwashing is that very smart marketers, designers, and brand managers are paid to create very convincing campaigns and package designs for the products that we find on our grocery store shelves. So, how do you spot it?
First, we recommend keeping an eye out for buzzwords that don’t actually mean anything – eco-friendly, natural, biodegradable, and chemical-free are just a few of the common ones out there. Most of these words don’t actually mean anything and lots of unnatural, not sustainable practices can be hiding behind them.
Second, look into the claims that any products or brands are making. Are their claims verified by a trusted, outside source? If not, the company has probably invested in a public relations campaign around said claim, without actually doing anything for the environment.
A Few Examples
Unfortunately, there are lots of examples out there when it comes to greenwashing. Even the most well-intending brands can slide into this because, quite frankly, sustainability is trendy. Let’s take a look at some of the most popular greenwashed products.
Bottled Water: There are plenty of brands out there that realize that packaging water in something other than plastic bottles is a good sustainability play. But, while water that comes in a box or even a glass bottle may seem like a more sustainable choice, the brands behind them may not be as eco-friendly as they seem. Boxed Water, as an example, may come in a recyclable cardboard container, but their manufacturing, filtration, and other operational processes are not more sustainable in the slightest.
Household Cleaning Products: From laundry detergent to cleaning sprays, there is a major push for brands to bring forward new more “natural” product alternatives. One of the biggest brands in the CPG ecosystem, Tide, recognized an opportunity to lean into these trends, releasing their Tide Purclean Plant-Based Detergent, but the EWG gives this product an “F” rating for concerns tied to the product’s ingredients.
Food: Food companies have been using terms like “natural” and “farm-raised” for years to paint a more wholesome picture of their products. Here’s the really scary part, the FDA doesn’t require brands to disclose what is included when they list “natural flavors” in their ingredient list and hundreds of chemicals can actually be hidden under that label. Tyson, as another example, has put “all-natural” across their chicken packaging, despite being treated with antibiotics and fed GMO corn.
Personal Care Products: The beauty and self-care industry have definitely capitalized on terms like all-natural, organic, chemical-free, and so on are thrown around alot by beauty and self-care brands. Big box stores like Target, have dedicated aisle to green beauty products, but many of these products still include questionable ingredients, packaging, and production practices.
How to Avoid it:
Greenwashing is all too common in the aisles of the grocery store – the everyday self-care and household products you use are easily dressed up with packaging, product names, and claims to lead you to believe you’re purchasing a ”better” product. Here are some helpful tips to avoid greenwashing in your everyday essentials:
Take a look at the ingredients.
When it comes to self-care and household cleaning items, make sure you take a peek at the ingredients – our “How to Detox Your Home” blog post is a great place to start for this! If the list is long and filled with unrecognizable words, it may not be as clean and green as it’s claiming to be. This is one reason we love our handmade soap scrub bars – their ingredient list is short, simple, and filled with items you’re familiar with like olive oil and rosemary.
Consider the packaging.
Sometimes it’s okay to judge a book by it’s cover. What we mean by this is if a product is claiming to be more eco-friendly, but is packaged in a BPA-filled single-use plastic container, then it’s likely not the best solution. Instead, try to opt for more natural, refillable solutions like our all-purpose cleaning concentrate.
Look beyond their marketing.
Don’t let pretty packaging fool you! Big brands have smart teams of marketers and package designers who lean into trends and buzzwords to promote their products. Just because a product is emblazoned with leaves and flowers, doesn’t make it better for the environment. The good news is that so many sustainable products like our Bathing Culture Mind & Body Wash are the best of both worlds – beautiful (reusable packaging) and safe, sustainable ingredients.
Do your research.
Doing your research is always one of the best ways to avoid being tricked by marketing. Look into the brand to see what’s happening behind the scenes. Not finding any info or company representatives hesitant to share the details? Probably a good sign there’s some greenwashing going on. Opt for a vegan dishwashing block instead of the “greener” version of the big brand variety.
At Simply Zero, we care about the big picture when it comes to products, which is why we carefully curate and vet each and every item we carry. It’s important to us that we share products that are good for you, for others, and for the planet. Have you experienced greenwashing as you shop for everyday essentials? What tips do you have for avoiding it?