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The Scary Truths About Greenwashing

So there you are at the store, a conscious consumer making your way through the aisles, picking up items your family needs. Since you are both health and eco-conscious, you’re keeping your eyes out for selections that say things like “all-natural”, “eco friendly”, and “non toxic”, but did you know these labels may only be a small piece of the truth? In fact, they may even be downright lies.
According to research by TerraChoice Environmental Marketing, 95% of “green” products are actually not as green or toxin free as they claim. Instead, the products are “greenwashed”, a term that refers to companies claiming to be environmentally friendly by marketing products with misleading information.
It comes down to being an informed consumer in order to protect you and your family from false claims and advertising so you buy products that are actually green and free from toxins, not just marketed that way. Based on TerraChoice’s research, here are seven common ways companies greenwash:
  1. No Proof ~ A company may make a claim on their product such as “made from recycled materials” or “natural healing power” but since there is no third-party certification, consumers have no way of validating these marketing claims! It’s easy for consumers to simply trust what the label says because why would a company claim to be something they’re not?
  2. Hidden Trade Offs ~ Companies may make one environmentally friendly claim about their product but fail to mention other environmental factors that similarly affect the environment. For example, a product may come from a sustainably harvested forest, but what about its energy use, water pollution, and greenhouse gas emissions? Is this product sustainable across other equal or more significant environmental issues?
  3. Vagueness ~ Using terms such as “all-natural” are too broad and can mean something different than what they portray. Contrary to what we’d like to believe, “all natural” doesn’t always mean healthy. You probably know that arsenic, uranium, mercury and formaldehyde are poisonous, but did you know they also qualify as all natural?!
  4. False Labels ~ Some products may use illegitimate or non-existent green logos, images or words that imply the product has a third-party certification or endorsement. In other words, companies may use fake certification labels.
  5. Irrelevant ~ Stating information that is truthful but unimportant can distract consumers from finding truly green products. For example, a product may state that it is free from a toxic chemical that, by law, is already banned for all products! This information doesn’t set the brand apart and is therefore an inflated marketing tactic.
  6. Bold Lies ~ With negligent government oversight, companies may make legitimate green claims that are either completely false or not fully backed. For example, a company may claim their product is Energy Star certified, even though it is not.
  7. Smoke & Mirrors ~ This occurs when a company uses tactics that appear to be greener or exaggerate their green practices, even though the nature of their businesses isn’t at all environmentally friendly. For example, organic cigarettes. They might be slightly better for smokers, but they are still toxic and deadly.
As a consumer, what can you do to prevent becoming a victim of greenwashing? First and foremost, our team at Wild Mint believes in the importance of awareness and education. That way, you can make your own informed decisions! In addition to awareness, TerraChoice suggests the following tips:
  1. Be a Label Checker ~ A good line of defense is to buy products from brands that list all of their ingredients on their label and are transparent both on their website and in their product offerings. A product should clearly state what is and is not used in its production in a way that is easily understood. If anything sounds fishy or “too good to be true,” there’s a good chance it is. Use your gut instinct, and find companies you trust.
  2. Be a Certification Critic ~ Remember that some companies go above and beyond to certify their products and make their brand even more reputable, with certifications such as USDA Organic, Fair Trade, Cruelty Free (PETA), Energy Star, Green Seal Certified, and so on. Take a look at the certification on a label, and do a quick search on your phone or at home to see if the certification is valid.
  3. Iffy Industries ~ TerraChoice states there are two industries in particular that consumers should look out for: Toy & Baby Products and Household Cleaning Products. For Toy & Baby Products, beware of the “No Proof” greenwash tactic. Lots of products claim to be free from BPA (the hormone disrupting chemical that has been linked to health issues), but they use new, little-understood plastics that may be equally harmful to one’s health. One of best ways to avoid toxic chemicals in these products is to go with glass and stainless steel for the bottles and organic cotton or toxin free wood for the toys. As for cleaning products, a prevalent greenwash tactic to look out for is “Vagueness”. Some common phrases to look out for include Eco Friendly, Environmentally Friendly, Earth Friendly, Environment Safe, Harnessing Nature, and Eco Chemistry. Remember, transparency is key; a company should be able to prove their products are indeed safe.
  4. Pre-plan ~ Before you buy, put together a list of trusted brands! We have many resources and information available on our site to help you!
As a reference, we have lists of chemicals to look out for in the areas of Cleaning and Skin Care & Cosmetics, as well as individual harmful chemicals to look out for and avoid at Wild Mint Shop ~ Learn.
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