Weekly Challenge

Week 12: Spot the Greenwashing

As we wrap up the third month of weekly challenges, you should be able to see how much you have already lowered your impact on the planet. Way to go! Unfortunately, despite all your hard work and honest efforts, you might be surprised to learn that you could unknowingly be falling victim to greenwashing. This sneaky, powerful, and profitable marketing strategy continues to become more prevalent. This week we will discuss what this term means, what it looks like in our everyday lives, and how to make sure it doesn’t spoil our low-impact living efforts. 

What is Greenwashing?

Simply put, greenwashing occurs when a company or organization attempts to profit on the growing demand for environmentally sound products by misleading consumers to believe that a product or service is sustainable, when it is not. Additionally, greenwashing includes deflecting attention away from the environmental harm a product or service is causing, and can even take the form of pretending to be an ally in the fight for climate action.

of global consumers

Roughly 66% of global consumers say they are willing to pay more for sustainable brands.

of consumers

82% of US consumers view themselves as eco-friendly.
Sustainable Brands Visual GPS research

Why is Greenwashing Bad? 

Not only is greenwashing deceptive, it’s harming environmental efforts and the planet in several ways.

What Does Greenwashing Look Like?

There are quite a few marketing strategies companies use to trick consumers into believing products or services are sustainable.

View Recent Examples Common Marketing Strategies

Capitalism and Consumer Confusion

As plastic production continues to sharply escalate each year, companies are spending millions quietly lobbying against regulations, while actively spending millions more to clean up plastic’s bad reputation.

of plastic waste

Only 8.7% of the 35.7 million tons of plastic waste generated in 2018 was recycled. While plastics are found in all major MSW categories, the containers and packaging category had the most plastic tonnage at over 14.5 million tons in 2018.
Environmental Protection Agency

These mixed messages threaten our collective ability to avoid catastrophic climate change.”

Adam Kanzer, head of stewardship for the Americas BNP Paribas Asset Management

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) offers several examples of greenwashing on its website, but let’s shine the spotlight on one of the most prominent and current examples: the greenwashing of single-use plastics and bioplastics.

Many companies are rebranding, jumping on the buzzword bandwagon, or pivoting to “bioplastics” to convey the idea that their products are more sustainable than competing brands. Although bioplastics signal progress, in no way should they be viewed as the solution to plastic pollution. Bioplastics are heavily marketed as planet-friendly because they are made from bio-based polymers instead of petrochemicals. These plastics are touted as “natural” and “plant-based” biodegradable plastics that are good for the planet because they can break down thousands of years faster than traditional plastics. But the hidden fact is that bioplastics need very specific conditions to decompose that involve access to oxygen and sunlight—both of which are scarce in the landfills where they are landing after use. Furthermore, many bioplastics require the use of or blending with other plastics during the manufacturing process. At the end of the day, despite marketing claims, independent research suggests these bioplastics are further contributing to microplastic pollution and sea litter. 

Undoubtedly Sustainable

Here are some tips for distinguishing truly sustainable products and services from those that are greenwashed:

If it can’t be reduced, reused, repaired, rebuilt, refurbished, refinished, resold, recycled, or composted, then it should be restricted, redesigned, or removed from production.

Pete Seeger

Opt to Act

Starting this week, there are two actions we can begin to implement to help us all have access to better buying choices:

  1. Call out greenwashing when you spot it to hold companies accountable
  2. Shift the spotlight to those doing the right thing! 
    • Vote with your dollars.
    • Give climate-positive businesses and organizations a “like,” “shout out,” and “share” to amplify their efforts.

Enjoy the boost in confidence knowing you have a choice in creating a more sustainable future by choosing to support truly sustainable brands, local businesses, and organizations working hard to protect the planet! How are your sustainable shifts going?

As always, we love hearing from you; and we love when you #shareyourshift!