For those of you that don’t know, I am a college student in my senior year majoring in advertising. My whole blog stemmed from a personal branding assignment in one of my classes that evolved to concentrate on my New Year’s Resolution to become a more ethical and sustainable consumer. Imagine my surprise when I found a crossroads where my future career and passion for sustainability met. Greenwashing.
Greenwashing has become a problem in recent years due to the pressures of big companies and brands to become more sustainable and ethical as consumers become more aware of their impact on the environment. Greenwashing is defined as a form of marketing spin in which green PR and green marketing are deceptively used to persuade the public that an organization’s products, aims, and policies are environmentally friendly and therefore ‘better.’.
These companies are basically profiting off of people’s beliefs and wants to buy more sustainable products, and they are able to do so due to the fact that certain words and phrases like, “sustainable,” “eco-friendly,” “good for the planet,” and “sustainable” are not yet regulated or defined by the Federal Trade Commision (FTC), which is the regulatory body for advertisements in the United States. Because these words and phrases are not regulated, a company can slap them onto almost anything they want and they don’t have to prove their claims that their products meet a certain definition for those terms.
It can be hard to tell when a company is greenwashing or not sometimes, so I made a list of ways to spot a company that is.
This is a big hint that a company is not actually as sustainable as they claim to be because most certifications are assessed by outside bodies and companies have to pay to even be assessed in the first place. Basically, companies and brands that are actually sustainable tend to put their money where their mouth is and will pay to have these certifications proven, while companies that aren’t so environmentally friendly will not.
No Definition for Sustainable or Eco-Friendly
Since there is no official definition from the FTC that companies need to meet, a lot of companies that claim to be sustainable and ethical have their own definitions that they disclose on their website or sometimes somewhere on their packaging. Just like before, the companies that are actually doing good will have their information more readily available in order to prove that they are what they claim to be. However, it may be important for you to make sure that the company’s definition of what it means to be sustainable and ethical also aligns with your own definition.
No Proof of Their Actions
The proof is in the pudding. Can you find proof that the company is doing what they claim to do? If not, then it is possible that they may be greenwashing. Giving back to the community and helping to save the planet are PR gold in today’s world, so of course the businesses that are actually doing good would want to publicize it wherever they could, whether its on their own social media or website or with local and national news outlets.
Green Products but a Dirty Company
So sure the brand in question might be creating products that are better for the planet in hindsight, but how are they making them? How much pollution are they contributing to? Do they pay their workers fairly? What are working conditions like?
Having an Eco-Friendly Line
This is especially rampant in the clothing industry right now, but you have very wasteful brands that are contributing mass amounts of product to landfill coming out with an eco-friendly or eco-conscious brand (I’m looking at you H&M) when they are still feeding the problem and not the solution. Usually, these eco-friendly lines are there just to boost up the brands PR because almost always when these lines are announced, there are waves of publicity around them, praising this company for doing the right thing, when all it really is is a cover to not only obscure the narrative of what the company is actually doing, but also to charge you even more for a product that costs literal cents for them to create.