Greenwashing – buyer beware!

Greenwashing – kind of like whitewashing, or if you ask me, brainwashing – makes us believe a product is “green” by using misleading claims and advertising. These companies and products allege to be environmentally friendly, eco, green or natural, when in fact they have somehow found a loop-hole or are just pulling the wool over our eyes to suck us in.

We can be greenwashed in many ways, some of the most common culprits include:

  • Cosmetics and toiletries
  • Food
  • Baby/children’s products
  • Cleaning products
  • Cars
  • Oil/gas companies
  • Textiles
  • Toilet paper
  • Banking

Using emotive “green” words such as:

Word Art

Used in the right context these words can mean something is environmentally friendly, however, there are many cases where they really are just a ploy. For instance there is nothing to stop a company using any of those words in the name of their product. For example: anyone can use the name “organic” without it actually being certified organic or you’ll often see “natural” embellished all over beauty products – cow farts are also “natural” but contain methane which is, give or take, 25 times more potent than carbon dioxide ☠.

The packaging is usually festooned with earth friendly images like the tree above or the actual earth; and they’re almost always printed in shades of either green or brown. What gets me every time are the third-party certifications (think FSC for paper or even the heart tick for food or worse still some companies even make up bogus certifications and slap it on the label)… woo hoo – someone else has done all the hard work for me!

I am a sucker for products that promote eco-friendliness. I did a tour around our house and picked out some of the items that were still in their packaging:

Every single product here contains at least one “eco/green” word. We can play spot the difference… how many earthy shades of green and brown do you see? How many plant, animal or earth symbols do you see?

You see when I read those words and see those symbols I think “ooh this must be good for the planet! Look at me putting my eco hat on”. WRONG! Unfortunately for simple Joes like you and I trying to decipher greenwashing just by looking at a label or an ad is like trying to lick your own elbow. Now this is not to say the products in my house are greenwashing me, all I’m saying is I picked them up off the shelf because they looked eco-friendly. Not because I’ve researched the product/brand/company and they check out as a bona fide better option for the environment.

I am positive that many of the products above are actually the better “green” option, but how do I know the fakes from the authentic? Well unfortunately its going to take a bit of time and research, at this stage there does not seem to be a quick answer. That’s the whole point behind marketing right? The impostors trying to muscle in on the good guys actually trying to make a difference just to make a quick buck.


When I was researching greenwashing there we loads of cool facts on how many companies use the word “organic” and what percentage of customers made purchases based on a products “greenness” but all we really need to know is how to spot the fakes from the real deal.

So I’ve set myself a new goal – when making purchases I am going to investigate the product to make sure I am not being greenwashed. It’s going to take time and effort but I’ll be asking these questions:

  1. Do I need this product in my life? Is there a substitute that comes directly from nature? (I usually figure if I can eat it, it must be pretty natural eg. vinegar has 1001 uses… no joke I actually read a book on it).
  2. Who is the company that makes the product? What is their overarching environmental policy? Do they try to help the environment in other ways (recyclable/recycled/minimised packaging, lowered carbon emissions)? What other products do they sell?
  3. Where is the product made? Can I get a similar product made closer to home to avoid excess mileage?
  4. What are the ingredients? (This is going to be the tricky part… I can’t pronounce most ingredient lists let alone know what they are!)
  5. What is the certification? Is it real or b-s?

This post focused on items around our house but greenwashing can apply to pretty much everything. So to help me through the audit I’ve created my own greenwashing index. I’ll keep adding to it as the year goes on, feel free to use it as a guide but it is based on judgement calls that reflect my own values and sketchy research.

Cheerio for now,

Minimal Sam


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