‘Greenwashing’ and the conscious consumer

What is greenwashing?

Greenwashing occurs when producers and suppliers make false or misleading claims that their products are environmentally friendly. Often the products appear to be eco friendly however, many companies fail to be transparent about their chains of production, packaging and materials. The term greenwashing can be extended to include not just products but institutions and services.

For example, you are looking to purchase a new yoga mat. This mat claims to be environmentally friendly (as it is made from cork). But, the mat comes packaged in plastic and cannot tell you where the cork was sourced from or why the company claims that cork is better than normal yoga mats.

The definition that I prefer of greenwashing is “the phenomena of socially and environmentally destructive corporations, attempting to preserve and expand their markets or power by posing as friends of the environment” – CorpWatch.

How to avoid ‘Greenwashing’ and to become a conscious consumer?

Avoiding greenwashing is actually quite simple and only involves asking the right questions. These are the questions I ask myself when I want to purchase something new or find a more sustainable replacement to a current product. This list of questions may look daunting but becomes second nature after applying it a few times.

  1. Do I really need this in my life?
  2. Can I borrow this from a friend or buy it second hand?
  3. Is there a plastic free alternative?
  4. Is it vegan?
  5. Is it cruelty free?
  6. Can I buy this product locally made or hand made?
  7. Does this product contain palm oil? If so, is it certified by the RSPO?
  8. Is there a non-disposable option? If not, is there a refill option?

[Let me know in the comments below if you have any other good questions to ask yourself when making a purchase – have I forgotten anything?]

Photo of Olivia by Jemma Rowlands

Why are each of these points so important to take note of?

V             = Vegan (no animal by-products were used in the creation of the product, animal agriculture is cruel, carbon emissions heavy & water intensive)

CF           = Cruelty Free (This implies that no animals were used as test subjects)

PF           = Plastic Free (This is a no-brainer)

L              = Locally produced (Support for local ventures is good for the economy as well as the fact that less transportation was used and thus carbon emissions are reduced)

POF        = Palm Oil Free (Palm Oil can be sustainably farmed but the certification for ‘sustainability’ is not rigorous enough for one to feel guilt free, read this article by National Geographic. Palm Oil production causes deforestation, is pushing orangutans to the brink of extinction, causes major air pollution and is notorious for appalling labour conditions that violate basic human rights including, the employment of children)

HM = Hand Made (this is not essential but can tell a consumer a lot about the ethos of a business. If things are hand made more jobs will be created and fewer machines will be used thus, lowering carbon emissions)

ND          = Non disposable (things such as wooden chopsticks, napkins, wet-wipes and toothbrushes are often overlooked as simple and effective ways to reduce what you send to the landfill. Switching to a bambooo toothbrush or buying fabric cloths (washable) instead of paper napkins can reduce your negative impacts on the planet)

Let’s apply the logic:

You are looking for a plastic free dental floss alternative…

Step 1: you google the product, “plastic free dental floss”

Step 2: you are met with many alternatives which look viable

Step 3: you ask yourself the 8 questions:

  • Do I really need this in my life? Yes, obviously! It’s floss…
  • Can I borrow from a friend or buy it second hand? Ewww no!
  • Is there a plastic free alternative? Yes!
  • Is it vegan? It could be…(the alternative that I found is made of silk which is not vegan)
  • Is it cruelty free? It should be…
  • Can I buy this product locally made or hand made? Nope
  • Does this product contain palm oil? If so, is it certified by the RSPO? N/A
  • Is there a non-disposable option? If not, is there a refill option? Nope

So I actually found a product that fits this description quite closely but unfortunately it is imported. However, this is still a step in the right direction. Sometimes when I can’t find viable alternatives I consider how important the product is to me. If I can go without it, then I will. We have to start sacrificing for the health of the plant and the generations that will follow us.

I was also rather surprised to see many ‘plastic-free’ alternatives offering silk dental floss BUT they were packaged in plastic [mind blown]. Those products that offer plastic free alternatives, but the packaging is plastic, are greenwashers. Sometimes the product is making leaps-and-bounds in becoming more green, and these efforts must be rewarded but the producers must BE TRANSPARENT about their transformation/progress. Don’t be fooled by products that offer plastic-free alternatives but are packaged in plastic. I see this all the time with earbuds and glass straws.

Let me know what you think – do you have other more interesting ways of being a conscious consumer? How do you spot greenwashers?

Cheers, Olivia X


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