If you care about the planet, you’re likely seeking ways to make environmentally responsible purchases. But how to know which brands are genuinely eco-friendly, and which ones only claim to be sustainable while misleading you and causing damage to the environment? Let’s explore how to spot the common signs of greenwashing so you can make more informed choices.
What is Greenwashing?
Greenwashing is a marketing strategy designed to mislead consumers into believing they’re buying natural, eco-friendly products while, in fact, they’re not. It functions to drive sales and gain a competitive advantage over genuine natural products which are generally more expensive to produce.
Why is it harmful?
Greenwashing harms both consumers and the environment by spreading misinformation, allowing unethical companies to continue unsustainable operations, and diminishing consumer trust in truly eco-friendly brands making it hard for them to make a meaningful impact.
How is this possible?
Despite various regulations and institutions established to protect customers, the definitions of “natural”, “clean”, “green” etc. are not currently regulated by law, enabling unethical marketing.
How to spot Greenwashing
Take your time to read product labels. The first five ingredients form the bulk of a cosmetic product. At least two plant-derived ingredients should be listed in those five. Greenwashed products are likely to list various synthetic ingredients first, and a few natural ingredients at the very bottom of the list. Not sure what the ingredients are? Search them on EWG Skin Deep or INCI Decoder websites to learn more.
To become eco-certified, a product must meet a number of strict requirements and be verified by an independent organisation. Such organisations include Soil Association and COSMOS for natural and organic products, a cruelty-free Leaping Bunny trademark and the Vegan Society. If a large, established company claims the product is eco-friendly but displays none of these badges, you’re likely being greenwashed.
This rule, however, doesn’t apply to small brands because each of these certifications is expensive and must be renewed annually. This makes them difficult for small businesses to afford. Despite not having official eco-certificates, artisan brands are usually run by people with a passion for sustainability, have a strong ethos, and value customers' trust and transparency.
Product labels and photos with green, earthy colours and images of plants don’t mean the product is natural. It’s just a design.
Watch out for buzzwords like “99% naturally derived”, “100% recyclable”, “clean beauty”, “made with natural ingredients” etc. In reality, these phrases don’t mean the product is fully natural or sustainable. For example, petroleum is naturally derived and palm oil, despite being natural, isn’t sustainable.
Don't trust everything that a company shares or says if they don't offer evidence to back it up. Be sceptical and seek transparency on product ingredients, packaging, supply chain and the manufacturing process. Trustworthy brands will disclose this information on their websites, back it up with verifiable evidence and readily answer your questions.
If you want to avoid giving business to companies who are intentionally greenwashing, screen your purchases carefully. Keep an eye out for harmful ingredients and production practices. Think about the entire product lifecycle, including what happens after you use the product.
Greenwashing needs to be stopped and we must hold companies to account. Let’s continue doing our part by becoming conscientious shoppers and choosing environmentally friendly products.
Would you like to find out how we make sustainable and effective natural skincare? Visit our Sustainability & Packaging page!