Our guide into what greenwashing means, how to spot it, and how to encourage conversations about eco-transparency and accountability.
It’s so inspiring to see the shift over the past five years to a society which is much more driven by environmental and eco-awareness when shopping. Whether that’s choosing to shop in zero-waste stores, buying from B-Corp retailers or using online resources to help to inform a more environmental choice.
When we started our little company three years ago, we were worried about the detrimental effect plastic had on both our environment and also our health. We made many positive switches and developed beeswax wraps to replace our reliance on cling-film, plastic sandwich bags and plastic containers. We’re obviously incredibly proud of what we’ve created, but are also aware that selling an eco-friendly product does not automatically make us an eco-friendly business. That takes work.
In the past few years we’ve seen a massive surge in eco-friendly, low-waste, plastic-free products. Products we are encouraged to buy if we want to become more ethical consumers and do our bit to save the planet. But many of these products are made in bad conditions, both for the workers and for the environment, they have a questionable supply chain and often aren’t as environmentally friendly as they are made out to be. This is greenwashing.
What Is Greenwashing?
Cambride dictionary’s definition of ‘greenwash’ is “to make people believe that your company is doing more to protect the environment than it really is”. For example, a company could sell 10 varieties of single-use plastic bottles, then decide to introduce one ‘eco-friendly’ bottle made using recycled plastic, and use this new product to remarket and reposition themselves as an eco-friendly business.
We’re not saying that this one new product isn’t a positive step in the right direction, but using this baby step to gloss over the 10 plastic products which are being made is misleading and a perfect example of greenwashing.
How to spot Greenwashing
Greenwashing campaigns often rely heavily on eco ‘buzz words’ which have little factual basis, such as ‘eco conscious’, ‘environmentally aware’, ‘green’ and ‘sustainable’. Sure, a product made from recycled or reclaimed materials can be ‘sustainable’, but when you factor in the quality of the product, how it was made, where it was shipped from, and how it is packaged, it may begin to appear considerably less ‘sustainable’ than they’d have you believe.
Next time you see one of these buzzwords, dig a little deeper to see if the company has any evidence to back these claims up.
What to look for and ask about
Social media makes it seriously easy to interact with brands and businesses, and can definitely be used to your advantage here! If you’re not sure about a product or companies eco-claims, don’t be afraid to ask them. Many companies will have an environmental policy, but you can still reach out to them and ask things like:
Where was this product made, and how were the workers making this product looked after?
Where did the materials/ingredients come from?
What waste is produced in making, shipping and storing this product and how is it disposed of?
Brilliant that you offer an eco-friendly product, but what wider steps are you taking as a business to reduce your impact and harm on the environment?
We want to start by saying that we’re not perfect, but we are trying our hardest to be the best we can be. Early on it was our number one priority to make sure our company was as eco-friendly as the product we sell. We use the buzzwords mentioned above, and we’ve still got a way to go to perfect many of our processes but we’re definitely getting there.
When it comes to the materials used in our products and the makers who source and process those materials, we want to be transparent on what we use and where it comes from. We are trying to strike a balance and prioritise working with suppliers and makers who look after their staff and source materials in a responsible and planet-friendly way, which often means venturing further afield and upping our carbon footprint as a company.
We are B Corp certified, an ethical marker that we are balancing purpose and profit to create a business that considers people, environment and community when making every decision. We’re also in the process of getting our Planet Mark Sustainability Certification, which measures our carbon footprint and creates goals to improve both our business and us as individuals. Alongside this we are also Living Wage employers and supporters of the World Land Trust. Use the button below to find out more about our eco certifications, and please do contact us if you know of any other routes and areas we should be looking at.
And finally, we’re not saying that all companies are bad, or that making small changes isn’t a step in the right direction even if other operations are less eco-friendly. We want to encourage and support businesses to make the right steps to being genuinely environmentally friendly. We’ve put together a whole bunch of resources to help businesses big and small take a step in the right direction, just tap the button below. Share them with your employer, your favourite business, or use them for your own business to make a move to caring for our planet and our people.