What is Greenwashing?

What is Greenwashing?

If you’ve ever seen the “pristine” image of a vibrant, green pine branch on the label of a plastic water bottle, or read the words “all-natural” or “eco-friendly” on an all-purpose cleaner, you’ve likely witnessed the marketing tactic known as greenwashing.

What is Greenwashing? Put simply, greenwashing is an advertising method that portrays a company or product as much more sustainable than it actually is. However, greenwashing can be difficult to recognize, since there are a multitude of strategies that companies can employ to falsely market their product.

So, how do you spot greenwashing? Here are some of the ways it appears:

1. Vagueness — Companies will remain vague about their operations or materials, or else only mention the sustainable parts of their operation. They may say they use recyclable materials but leave out their massive carbon footprint.

2. Exaggeration — Companies will exaggerate the positive impact of one sustainable practice they use, claiming that it does much more good than it actually does. For example, a company may claim to plant one tree for every product sold without tracking the number of trees they plant.

3. False statements — Sometimes, companies will tell outright lies, saying they have a plan to become carbon neutral when no plan exists.

4. Eco-Buzzwords — There’s no regulation saying companies can’t use words such as “green,” “natural,” or “eco-friendly” without actually using sustainable practices. Plenty of companies will throw these words all over the place, despite a lack of any sort of environmental certification.

5. Misleading Imagery — By slapping a picture of nature on an unsustainable product (a leaf, a tree branch, a baby deer) companies can make it seem like they have the natural world in mind, even when they have no intention of protecting it.

Greenwashing Examples: Here are some real-life examples of major companies using greenwashing tactics:

Keurig — in 2022, Keurig marketed their single-use plastic coffee pods as recyclable to Canadians. This wasn’t a total lie; the pods were technically accepted in some recycling facilities, but only in Quebec and British Columbia, leaving eight provinces and three territories where they weren’t accepted.

RyanAir — In 2020, RyanAir claimed to have the lowest carbon emissions of any European airline, despite no evidence backing the claim.

Seventh Generation — This laundry detergent company sells a bottle of detergent advertised as made of “100% recycled cardboard and newspaper.” On the inside of the bottle, however, is a plastic bag containing the liquid detergent. The bottle is difficult to detach from the bag for recycling, and the bag itself can only be recycled in specific regions.

The list of companies that employ these or similar greenwashing tactics goes on. But the good news is that, with the right knowledge, you can improve your shopping practices to support more sustainable businesses.

What to Look For Instead: Now, while our individual carbon footprints are real, in order to combat climate change, the most important emission shift is corporations.

Heat and electricity companies, airlines, and manufacturers, have a much bigger impact on the environment. But that doesn’t mean that our actions don’t matter, and by supporting sustainable companies, we can help get the world on the right track.

So, here’s what to look out for if you want to buy sustainable products from sustainable companies:

1. Transparency — Make sure that companies thoroughly describe their commitment to sustainability and the practices they use.

2. Certifications — Look for certifications from environmental organizations, such as Cradle2Cradle, USDA Organic, NON GMO Project Verified, Seafood Watch, BlueSign Approved, GOTS Certified, FSC Certified, FairTrade, B Corp, and more. If a company claims to be sustainable, but you see no certification anywhere, that’s a red flag.

3. Good Product/Company Reviews — Research the company or the product! If you look up a company’s name with the word ‘greenwashing,’ you can see if the company has been accused of greenwashing.

You may also be able to find info on the quality and lifespan of the product you’re buying. The longer it lasts, the better for the planet, and the more money you’ll save.

Luckily, there are some ways to skip the research; check out the online Better World Shopper, which has sustainability and ethical practice ratings for many large companies out there. This can quickly tell you if a product is sustainable and ethically made.

And finally, no greenwashing here! On our About Us page, you can see our FSC Certification and our partnership with 1% FOR THE PLANET, then read up on RB Life Brand’s commitment to our values and to delivering you sustainable, 100% bamboo toilet paper. Good for you, good for the planet.

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