Opinion: How to Avoid Greenwashing

BY: MARIA ALMEIDA

What Really is Greenwashing?

You know what’s a shame? How people who try their very best to act eco-friendly are often scammed by companies that lie about how they are “helping the environment” with their sales. If you weren’t aware of this unfortunate phenomenon, let me give you a brief overview, and this way you can also assess whether you’re a victim of this deception. Ponder the following questions: Is the company that is selling you something reliable and trustworthy? Is the description of the product vague to the point you feel like you could use more information as to how it was made? Are the ingredients labeled in the product truthfully not harmful to the environment? Greenwashing is the attempt of companies to label products eco-friendly when they’re anything but. Whether they purposely promote this or not, it is crucial for you, as a consumer, to distinguish when a company is environmentally beneficial and when it’s not, so you can be a responsible environmental activist. 

Eco-labeled Products vs. Greenwashed Products

For some, it might be difficult to distinguish between a product that is righteously eco-labeled and one that is a victim of greenwashing. To put it in perspective I decided to take a trip to the grocery store in order to better explain the difference. The correct and liable alternative of greenwashing is eco-labeling which is the practice of designating a product’s label how the product was grown, harvested, or manufactured, so that consumers can judge which brands use more sustainable processes. In my journey to compare the two phenomenons of ecolabeling and greenwashing, I found two items: an 80 Acres Farms POWER Crunch Salad Blend Mix and a personal hair care product called Herbal Essence. The 80 Acres Farm brand is an example of an eco-friendly labeled product for two reasons: ecological certifications are present and the product is locally produced and sold. In most cases, ecological beneficial products are often displayed and labeled eco-friendly by the U.S. department of agriculture. Additionally, the product claims to be non-GMO which means that the makeup of that item does not come from genetically modified organisms and thus it represents a realistically natural product that is free from toxins and any preservatives. Also, the product is claimed to be grown in Ohio which according to an article published by Jennifer Chait, more sustainable products can be found in locally grown businesses. Similarly, 80 Acres Farms is a company in which food is grown indoors “with 100% renewable energy. And 97% less water”. On the other hand, the Herbal Essence hair product is an example of a greenwashing product since they contain a decent amount of chemicals that work against the primary goal of the product, and it also lacks a certification or definite proof of being a sustainable product when it is marketed as such.

Real National Environmental Service or Pretend 

National companies are concerned about the practice of greenwashing and it’s rapid increase throughout the nation. Recent media has kept an eye out for any suspicious acts of potential greenwashing tactics in small business as well as large corporations and influencers. The United Nations Climate Change Conference recently concluded their annual meeting in which they brought in agencies, governmental organizations, and world leaders to discuss their plans and changes in their efforts to control climate change. Taking place in the United Kingdom, the Conference of the Parties (COP26) was the largest summit ever hosted in the nation. The plan is to continue the climate change conversation and develop their ideas to make a change in communities across the United States. National Grid, an energy organization, works alongside leaders of COP26 to promote sustainable energy use. They claim, “We’re focused on finding ways to deliver cleaner, greener, energy from building interconnectors to allow the UK to share clean energy with our neighbours in Europe, to investing in renewable energy generation in the U.S.”. However, a recent article outed some unsatisfactory news about those working for the conference, claiming that sponsors of COP26 abuse their power within this environmental crisis to portray their greenwashing agenda. Thus, company partners who claim to support such important topics at COP26, have completely misled consumers nationwide through their greenwashing tactics, meaning the greenwashing problem is expanding to more than just your local grocery store. 

A Serious Problem

Reported in several news outlets, contributors to the COP26 have been caught in this greenwashing behavior and readers are not happy about it. This example is one of many where we can see how greenwashing can have negative results expanding from little local concerns to major concerns like the COP26. A company that fails to evidently show how they act sustainably or pretend to be supported by relevant governmental laws and policies is a suspect of greenwashing. So before you buy a product at the grocery store or decide to donate to a charity event that claims to be environmentally conscious, look closely for the green evidence before checking-out. 


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