During the past few years, climate change has risen to become a mainstream issue. Thanks to the collaboration of millions of people around the world fighting everyday for a better world, companies are scared about their sales and reputation. The more the public knows about this issue, the more they want buy products which match their values and alleviate the guilt that comes from buying an earth-killing product.

So, what is greenwashing? It's when companies lie or mislead you about the "goodness" of their product to the environment. This often looks like using nature imagery, exaggerating the positives from a product, and slapping some buzz words: eco-friendly, bio-degradable, ethical, and organic.

The most frustrating part about this scheme is that consumers actually do want to find products that are healthier for them and the environment, but they're taken advantage of if they don't take the time to extensively research a particular product.

Here are some things to keep in mind when buying a product or forming an opinion on a company:

  1. What is the history/patterns of the company?
  2. Does the product have official labels and certifications:  For example:
  • Organic doesn't mean anything, USDA organic does
  • Ethical doesn't mean much, Fair Trade certified does.
  • Is it a B Certified Corporation?
  • All things are degradable. Most things are biodegradable, but these are not the same thing as compostable, when disposing of the product.
  • Depending on the type of product it will probably have a different certification. Here is a list for certifications in the US.

3. Are they trying to tackle issues at the core? For example:

  • Are they trying to offset emissions instead of reducing their emissions in the first place? Could they be switching to cleaner energy and more efficient processes?
  • Are they making commitments that are really far into the future, or making changes today?
  • Are they investing more in PR or in the transformation of their company/product?
  • Are they privately investing in fossil fuels?

4. Are they shifting the blame to consumers/government?

  • Lots of companies are now shifting the blame away from themselves by encouraging the individual to lower their personal carbon footprint. Or blaming the government of not having better environmental policy (even if they lobby in the other direction)

Overall... be skeptical! There is a growing number of companies that do want to solve issues in the industry and make better products, but there are many more who want to mislead you in order to keep you as their customer.