Five Greenwashing Claims To Look Out For

Five Greenwashing Claims To Look Out For

Green products are a booming business, but while many eco-friendly businesses work to conserve resources, reduce pollution, and promote sustainability, there are also plenty of companies out there looking to take advantage of consumers trying to shop green. These companies will use deceptive advertising and misleading claims to make you believe their products are green even if they’re anything but – a tactic known as “greenwashing.” So if you want to make sure the products you’re buying are as eco-friendly as they say, keep an eye out for these five greenwashing claims.

1. Vague terms

We’ve all seen products advertised with environmentally-friendly sounding terms like natural, clean, pure, fresh, and non-toxic, but what do those words really mean? Turns out, not much – there’s no regulation for these kinds of advertising claims, so companies can feel free to slap the word natural on anything they’d like not matter what’s inside.

What to look for instead: You can avoid being taken in by this kind of ambiguous marketing by checking labels closely for specific ingredients, facts, or links to more information.

2. Lesser of two evils

Companies will often try to get into the green marketplace by advertising their goods as modified, cleaner versions of otherwise nasty products – think of fuel-efficient SUVs, environmentally-friendly pesticides, or “reformulated” toxic cleaning products. This tactic can make it seem like you’re making an eco-friendly choice, but these claims are really just distracting you from the third, better option of avoiding these products altogether.

What to look for instead: Chose truly green products like enzyme-based cleaners and avoid products you know to be environmentally damaging no matter how they might dress them up.

3. Unseen tradeoffs

Many products will tout the eco-friendliness of certain aspects of their products while ignoring the larger environmental cost. Dangerous chemicals might come in “green” packaging, for example, or paper that advertises itself as chlorine-free might come from forests that are not sustainably farmed. Companies will use this tactic to draw attention away from their less eco-friendly activities, so be sure to take into account the entire lifecycle of the products you buy.

What to look for instead: Keep an eye out for green certifications that verify the sustainability of a product from its source to your door. These including USDA-certified organic products and FSC-certified paper.

4. Irrelevant claims

Many products will lure you in with green claims that, while true, are otherwise meaningless and unhelpful. For example, a cosmetic may claim to be “safety-tested,” when in reality all cosmetics have to pass muster with the FDA before they hit the shelves, or a label may tout a product as being CFC-free when in fact all such products are required by the government to be made without CFCs.

What to look for instead: This can be a hard one to spot, but a good test is to ask yourself if every product in that category can make the same claim. If so, it shouldn’t be a factor looking to go green.

5. Green images

It’s not just words that can be greenwashed – advertisers have historically used all sorts of imagery to suggest things about their products and greenwashing is no different. Keep an eye out for pictures of leafs, trees, and other happy nature scenes on labels that make no other claims to eco-friendliness. Just because there’s an animal on the label doesn’t mean the company is making the environment a priority.

What to look for instead: Make sure labels have specific facts like BPA-free and 100% recycled  to go with those green labels.

The key to avoiding any sort of greenwashing is to stay informed by reading labels carefully and researching the claims they make.  There is currently very little governmental oversight of environmental advertising claims in the U.S., but there are a number of non-profit organizations that monitor greenwashing. You can look on sites like Greenwashing Index to check specific products or for more general advice.


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