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Greenwashing: When Going Green Will Make You See Red

Posted by Paula Parisotto on

It’s no secret I am excited by and curious about sustainable living! Since starting my career in the health and wellness industry three decades ago, healthy living has been one of my passions. I’m not just talkin' fitness and eating well; I'm talking about taking long-term sustainable steps towards healthier living as a whole.


greenwashing; the truth about green business'

If you've read my journey towards becoming an accessory and handbag designer, then you know all about my love affair with cork! I jokingly tell people that “cork chose me,” and that choice has changed my life and my business for the better! Thanks to cork, I was introduced to a new way of incorporating healthy living into our lives through sustainable choices that lower our environmental impact. I like to think of myself as “light-green” - I don’t have it all figured out, and I am no expert, but I am curious and invested in learning what we can do together to preserve the planet!

When I first opened my eyes to sustainable living, I directed my attention toward preserving our natural resources. Minimizing the impact of our carbon footprint felt like an excellent place to start. I quickly began researching swaps I could make in our day-to-day lives. I started with trading harsh chemicals for those labeled with natural ingredients. Our foods were switched to organic and locally sourced whenever possible. Falling in love with cork for its sustainability (and beauty!) didn’t just launch Paula Parisotto accessories line; it set me on a path toward learning everything I could about running an ethical business. But the more I strove to build a company based on ethical principles of slow fashion, the more I learned about brands who monetize the green movement for their personal gain. Greenwashing is the false marketing of products as good for the environment as an effort to appear more environmentally sound (and prey upon consumers’ good intentions).

To put it more simply: companies who “greenwash” often spend more money on making consumers think their practices are sustainable than actually making them so. Sometimes it’s as suggestive as a product name; others go so far as to falsify records.

As bothered as I am by the practice of misrepresenting a brand as green when it is anything but, seeing red about the issue is only helpful if I use it to teach you how to avoid it! Below are some examples of products you have probably heard of that use greenwashing tactics to sell products. Sometimes the first step to recognizing greenwashing is to see it in action.

Cleaning Materials

One of the most common products to abuse greenwashing as a marketing ploy is cleaning products. It’s no secret that harsh chemicals will destroy germs, and using them was the standard of clean for decades. As we learned more about the long-term effects of producing these products and using them in our homes, the need for green alternatives has never been more urgent.

Windex is a prime example of greenwashing. SC Johnson’s Windex Vinegar Ocean Plastic bottle claims to be the world’s first window-cleaner bottle made from 100% recycled ocean plastic. Calling it ocean plastic is pretty misleading as it’s not pulling plastic from the ocean; it’s actually sourced from plastic banks from Haiti, the Philippines, and Indonesia. What they are doing isn’t all bad; the plastic they are using is ocean-bound. So it is helpful to our environment, but its claim makes it seem like they are doing more than they are. I don’t know about you, but I would feel pretty good about saving plastic from going INTO the ocean just as much as I would about retrieving plastic debris! To top it off, their claims of “non-toxic” were refuted in a lawsuit from last June showing that the chemicals in their products are indeed harmful to people, pets and the environment.

Fortunately, a simple swap of vinegar and warm water will do wonders to clean glass, and those two products are non-toxic (and super affordable!) 

In the case of Windex, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is! Take a look at products that are spending a lot of money to show off how “green” they are - chances are, the more they spend letting you know about their good deeds, the less they are spending on actually taking care of the environment.

When it comes to cleaning products, here are a few tried and true brands that put their money where it counts - back into the environment!

Some other recent greenwashing cases you may have heard of include Starbucks’ straw-free lids made of more plastic than the previous straws and lids combined, and Comcast’s “PaperLESS is More” campaign spared no paper in its marketing. Greenwashing is an epidemic across all major industries!

The Seven Sins of Greenwashing

Sustainable Jungle released the seven sins of greenwashing to identify when a product might be using dishonest marketing. The following list was published on their website in Spring 2020.

  1. Hidden trade-off: Defining something as “green” by a narrow definition that ignores other environmental impacts.
  2. No proof: Claims are not quickly confirmed or unverified by third-party certifications.
  3. Vagueness: Broad, insubstantial, or convoluted claims. These include new and improved statements made with recycled materials, eco-friendly, and non-toxic, with no further specificity.
  4. Irrelevance: Claim may be truthful but unrelated to the product or company.
  5. Lesser of two evils: Touting one good sustainability aspect while ignoring more significant environmental harm.
  6. Fibbing: Just plain lying.
  7. Worshipping false labels: Misleading words and images that imply false third-party support. For example: Labeled as “Vegan approved” instead of an official certification like PETA-certified vegan or certified by Vegan.org.

Avoiding Greenwashing

Fortunately, as the problem has become more widespread, so have the restrictions being placed on corporations by the Federal Trade Commission. As consumers, just becoming more mindful and committed to researching products before purchasing them will go a long way. Read labels carefully - while companies might get away with some flubbing their advertising, it is illegal to incorrectly list ingredients. Just make sure that the organic product you are buying has ingredients that you easily recognize!

Look for third-party certifications such as USDA certified organic or the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC). The steps needed for certification can be time-consuming and costly. This means a corporation’s commitment to being certified can add confidence when making an informed purchase decision.

What does this mean for the Fashion Industry?

I have shared some of the importance of purchasing from sustainable brands over the last few weeks. Still, I wanted to help you identify greenwashing within the fashion industry as well. Because of our love as a culture of being on-trend, the fashion industry has been able to fly a little fast and loose when building brands rooting in ethical practices. The truth is, when we think of sustainability, we think of cars and chemical production and purchasing organic food. We aren’t considering that the item of clothing we are wearing could potentially be produced in a way that negatively impacts the environment.

If you are concerned with impacting sustainable change in all areas of your life, clothes are an excellent place to start!  

Seriously though, there are clothing brands that will keep you fashionable and feeling good about your carbon footprint at the same time. In the weeks to come, I'll write an article praising some of my favorite fashion brands working hard to make a positive environmental impact; fashion brands standing up against fast fashion with classic styles that are both body-inclusive and fair trade.

Do you have a favorite fair trade fashion brand I should know about? How about a tried and true green product you can’t live without? Tell me in the comments below!








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