Want to be sure you’re buying the best products you can? Learn my best tips on how to avoid greenwashing and become a smarter consumer with these tips.
We talk a lot about natural living here on the blog, and in general, but there’s one really important piece of the puzzle I think we’re missing. It’s the fact that most companies are out for one thing, and one thing only: profit. And they’ll go to really great lengths to get that profit, even if it means misleading their consumers.
The bottom line is…not everything is what it seems. As consumers, it’s up to us to do our research and know that the product we’re buying is natural. We can’t take everything at face value anymore, and we can’t assume that just because it’s on the shelf at the store, that it’s safe and good for us.
On that note, today I want to give you a little more information to help you be an empowered consumer. We’re going to talk about greenwashing. In this blog, I’ll cover what it is, why it’s a bad thing, and give you some tips on how to avoid it. Let’s get started.
What is Greenwashing?
Greenwashing is when a product or company says they’re eco-friendly, but they spend more money and effort trying to prove it than actually implementing it.
For example, last year, I decided to give a really popular cleaner a try. I’m not going to name names, because that’s not what this post is about, but I’ll share my experience!
This brand was (is still) everywhere. Their branding is really simple and organic looking and lots of bloggers I admire took on their campaign. They’re all natural and formulated with essential oils! Since everyone was talking about them, I had to give them a try.
Man did they smell amazing and work really well. They quickly became a favorite.
I didn’t realize until months later that I’d become the victim of greenwashing.
You see, the company knew what they were doing. They knew that essential oils had become a buzz word, and so they used that in their marketing. And yes. They did use essential oils in their products, but upon digging further into their website, I realized they also used artificial fragrance and other ingredients I don’t allow in my home.
But, none of their marketing material mentioned those things. They put so much effort into keeping our attention on the essential oils that they looked all natural if you didn’t look too hard.
It’s basically a bait and switch. Give the people what they want, but don’t work too hard.
Why is greenwashing a problem?
Most of us are just over here trying to do the best we can. We want safe ingredients for ourselves, our kids, and our families. They do it in other parts of the world, so why does it seem impossible here?
I don’t know about you, but all I want is to be able to trust that I can go buy something at the store and know that it’s safe and effective. But, that’s not the case, because “natural” and “safe” have become marketing terms that companies are using just to profit off of us wanting better.
Don’t get me wrong. There are some honest companies who say, “Hey. Maybe there’s something to this. Let’s try and make this product without all the crap.”
But there are many, many more dishonest companies who pick up on the trend, replace the one ingredient that’s in the hot seat at the moment, and leave all of the other ingredients we haven’t noticed.
Then, they re-release the product, and it’s rebranded to look all natural, and we as consumers think we’re doing better. But, we’re not. At least, not until we take matters into our own hands and stop trusting this marketing.
So, how do we avoid greenwashing when we shop for products? That’s what I’m getting to next.
How to Avoid Greenwashing
Don’t trust packaging made to look “natural”
Companies put a lot of thought into their packaging. Think about how you feel when you see one of those simple brown and green packages. They use words like “natural,” “pure,” and “organic,” and it makes you feel really good!
But…is it organic? If it’s missing the certified organic logo, it’s not organic. And also, words like natural, pure, green, and simple don’t actually mean anything. They’re just marketing terms that companies use without any real backing.
This type of packaging makes you feel really good about buying it, because it looks like a great natural option. But the truth is, you could probably be spending your money on a better and more natural product if you can learn to look past the packaging and the buzz words.
Take a look at their claims
You can tell a lot about a company by taking a look at their marketing claims.
What are they saying?
Are they giving you really specific information about their product? Or are they being really vague and using words that don’t mean much?
If they’re being really vague…you might be getting greenwashed.
Remember: If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
Learn your ingredients and know what to avoid
We can’t inherently trust that items on the store shelves are safe. We also can’t trust the packaging or the marketing claims anymore.
So, how do you know you’re getting a safe product?
By reading the labels.
Yep. Flip that bad boy over and look at the actual list of ingredients on the back or bottom of the container.
Some of the ingredients I recommend avoiding are:
- SLS (Sodium Laurel Sulfate)
You can read more about these ingredients, why I avoid them, and more in my post about detoxing your home. I also have a list of ingredients to avoid that you can download for free right here (Seriously. Totally free. You don’t even have to sign up for anything). Neither of these is all-inclusive, but they do have the biggest offenders that I know about.
Be sure to look through both of those to help you get started!
Take responsibility for knowing what to avoid
I cannot say this enough. The only way you can be sure about what you’re putting on your body is by researching and learning the ingredients to avoid.
That might mean looking up each ingredient on the product label until you start to recognize them. I usually just type in an ingredient name on Google and start reading anything put out by trusted publications.
All of those things will be really helpful in learning, but the bottom line is that you are the only one responsible for keeping up with it.
There’s talk lately of companies being able to “buy” better ratings on the rating sites.
Bloggers and publications may have a bias that makes their lists and information lean a certain way. Or…maybe they just haven’t kept up to date!
Be an empowered consumer and know what you’re buying and what’s in it. The best way to avoid greenwashing is to take that power into your own hands and own it.
Know where YOU want to draw the line
Finally, you’ve learned about the ingredients in your products and how to read your labels. Now, it’s time to figure out where you want to draw the line.
No one else can decide what you’re okay with besides you. Where you draw your line might not be the same as where I draw my line.
Going back to that cleaner example: you might be totally fine with the ingredients in that cleaner. I’m not. That’s why I can’t write a list of everything you should avoid and what you should buy instead.
How to Avoid Greenwashing: Final Thoughts
As consumers, it’s up to us to research our products and know that they are safe. We can’t assume that just because it’s on the store shelf, that it’s safe, and we certainly can’t blindly trust the marketing we see every day.
So, if you aren’t sure how to avoid greenwashing, here it is:
Know your “buzz words,” learn to read ingredients (and know what they are), and become an empowered consumer.
Ready to get started? I like to issue a challenge to people when this topic comes up, so here goes! To give this method a try, let’s take the three cabinet challenge.
Go into your cabinets, or anywhere you keep your products, and grab three items you use on a regular basis.
Take a look at the branding and the claims that are written in big, bold letters. Now, flip it over and check out the ingredients label and start researching! It’s great practice for when you get into the store, and it will give you an idea on where you stand in your home already.
Find more information on clean living here:
- The Benefits of Using Natural Products
- My Must-Have Spring Cleaning Supplies for a Natural Home
- A Peak at my Daily Natural Beauty Routine
- Things I No Longer Buy to Live a Non-Toxic Life