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Greenwashing: How to Spot It and Stop It

Greenwashing… It’s not as clean as it seems. Behind the eco-friendly front and buzzwords, you might find some bad behaviour from your favourite brands. When it comes to looking for green flags and finding what businesses are really backing the green promises they promote, you need to know how to see past the green marketing and spot sustainable shopping vs little green lies. With the help of Laura Harnett, founder of Seep and their eco-friendly cleaning products, we’ve got all of the gossip on greenwashing. Here are the secrets to spotting it, and stopping it…

What is greenwashing?
First, let’s define greenwashing: put simply, it’s a form of environmental marketing used to put an eco-friendly spin on not-so eco-friendly products. You might see carbon neutral claims covering up a whole lot of emissions or overinflated green initiatives implying a sustainable approach, that actually only last for one season.

Why do people greenwash, you ask? Sustainability is in the spotlight, it’s a rising trend and officially here to stay. As consumers, we’re now eager to find products that are made for us and Mother Nature, meaning companies are trying to keep up by staying relevant in the new eco era. Unfortunately, a few want the green seal of approval without any of the grunt work, which is where greenwashing comes in. It’s an easy way to tell the world you’re eco-friendly, without actually putting in the grind to go green.

So how do we not get washed away by supposed sustainable materials and buy from brands actually backing the planet?

How to Spot It
When it comes to giving a company the green light on their climate-care claims, there are a few ways to tell if the grass really is greener on the other side…

Tip 1: Does the brand sell more than one environmental product? If you can only spot a single shampoo bar amongst a sea of single-use plastic, it’s probably not as green as it seems. If a brand really cares about creating sustainable products, a pretty big percentage of their range should revolve around this. A few questions to ask yourself before buying: Is that ‘conscious’ clothing collection just a capsule? Is their ‘low impact’ line limited edition? This can help you see past that home page banner bragging ‘planet-loving’ and focus on their practices.

Tip 2: Test their transparency. Is sustainability a staple across their company? Do they embody envionmentalism? Is eco their ethos? The supply chain speaks for itself, so if you’re seeing skipped steps or secretive ploys when it comes to their production process or so-called ‘eco-friendly’ packaging, climate care might not be as big a core value as they say. Don’t skip on startups just because they’re missing the ‘100% sustainable’ seal of approval though! Eco can be expensive, especially for small companies. As long as backing the Earth is built into their business model, you’re putting your pounds in the right place.

Tip 3: Don’t buy into buzzwords. Some of the biggest examples of greenwashing come from eco-friendly wording. Keep your eye out for ‘sustainable’, ‘bio’ and ‘recyclable’ placed on the packaging and ask yourself, ‘is the brand really producing these planet-friendly promises?’ You might even find these in the names. Over to the expert – Laura Harnett explains, “They just put eco or bio in front of it; I’m hoping that new rules will level the playing field a little bit.”

Tip 4: Find information in the ingredients. Whether that’s the formulas of your favourite beauty buys, or the materials used to produce your must-have products. When it comes to formulas, ‘natural’, ‘organic’ and ‘clean’ are the three magic words used to find self-care products that are green, but what do they actually mean?

Clean beauty is free from parabens, sulphates and silicones. Organic beauty means the ingredients are sourced without the use of pesticides. Natural beauty means ingredients are readily available in nature and not synthetically sourced or made.

An ingredient list tells its own story, and when it comes to shopping for green beauty, there are a few things to look for behind the green sheen in order to really give the globe a glow-up. Did you know that sulphates are the biggest carbon emitters of the beauty industry, and produce a whopping 5.4kg of CO2 per production! Plus they’re also toxic to aquatic animals. Not so sustainable, right? So when it comes to shopping for the shower, steer clear! You can also check up on those 100% organic claims; the higher an ingredient in the list, the higher percentage you will find in the product.

When it comes to eco-friendly products for cleaning, sustainable shaving kits, recycled plastics, wood and bamboo are great. But bear in mind that once these components are combined, many products raving about their recyclability will become redundant. Laura says: “It’s great that it’s got bamboo but as soon as it’s mixed with anything else, you can’t recycle it, so actually it being made of 100% plastic is better because you can then recycle it. For example, there are some great washing up brushes made of bamboo out there, but then they have plastic bristles and a plastic attachment.

Tip 5: A product’s afterlife shouldn’t be longer than its actual life. One of the biggest giveaways to greenwashing is when a brand lacks sustainable packaging. Is it recyclable? Can it be reused? Do they offer a refill service? Do they work alongside Terracycle? Is it compostable? These are all questions you can ask to easily identify brands investing more money into marketing their ‘save the Earth’ mission, than actually doing it…

Tip 6: Buy into badges. I spy with my little eye, an eco-certification… On any products claiming to be vegan, organic or compostable, you’ll usually find an eco badge somewhere on the packaging to back this up. For products claiming to be organic, you’ll want to check for the Soil Association logo – it’s there to give you a little reassurance that the product works for you and the world, appearing on 70% of all organic products.

Why is it a problem?
So now that we know how to spot greenwashing, we need to understand why it is such a big problem. The world is changing and we’re on the mend with more investment into green products. Great for the globe, but not so good for companies wanting to skip the hard work when it comes with going pro-climate.

With promises of sustainability going hand in hand with a low waste lifestyle, most of us buy into biodegradable packaging and carbon-neutral products with Mother Nature in mind. But behind the scenes, most businesses don’t match up to the marketing they push and soon, we become a part of the very problem we are trying to solve.

Greenwashing doesn’t just affect our efforts to close the loop but also takes consumers away from brands who are actually invested in taking care of the Earth. The good news is that people are clamping down on greenwashing, meaning it’s finally in the hot seat! As Laura explains, “The CMA has basically made it effectively illegal to make sustainability claims that aren’t true and that’s described as greenwashing.”

How to stop it
Small changes make a big difference and consumers are leading the cause. There are a few ways you can help get rid of greenwashing and get companies to clean up their act…

Starting with the obvious – put your money where Mother Nature is and shop sustainablly by buying from credible brands that really care about the climate. Putting a stop to the not-so green behaviour from big businesses is an easy way to support the rise of sustainability and choose green products over greenwashing.

Do your research. Knowing what the greenwashing definition is and keeping your eco-info up to date makes it easy to see past little false claims that come your way.

Become an eco-activist. Educate your friends and family on how to avoid greenwashing and what to look out for with our eco info. Better yet, why not makes things even easier and send them our way!

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