Greenwashing 101: How To Spot Truly Sustainable Brands

June 18, 2021

Stock photo of a natural color tote bag beneath a net bag and green leafs. Text reads

As consumer interest in sustainable products continues to skyrocket, something else grows along with it: greenwashing. Greenwashing is what happens when a company implies their products and processes are more sustainable than they actually are. Brands that greenwash put more money and effort into marketing their products to appear green versus actually being green.

Building and running a truly sustainable company involves tirelessly vetting each step of the supply chain and making thoughtful decisions about how to make the brand more beneficial to the planet and each maker involved. For some brands, attempting to earn eco-conscious shoppers’ trust through green advertising is more tempting than doing the actual work.

Consumers Care About Greenwashing - A Lot

At a time when customers value the ethical impact of their products, greenwashing matters. According to a 2020 IBM report, 71% of shoppers are willing to change their shopping habits for a brand that offers traceability, and 73% of Gen Z are willing to pay more for products that are sustainable. In a 2020 World Economic Forum survey, 9 out of 10 respondents among 28 countries said they’d like to see more sustainable products in a post-pandemic market. Consumers want the real thing - true, real-deal green products. Greenwashing simply won’t cut it.

How To Spot Greenwashing

Once you develop an eye for what greenwashing looks like, you’ll start to notice the signs quickly when browsing a brand’s products. Here are a few signs of greenwashing to watch out for:

  • Branding focused on one small green aspect of the company’s processes when the rest of its policies are not ethical or sustainable
  • Vague, flowery language about eco-friendliness
  • Packaging or products that contradict with the company’s professed green values
  • Products that are sustainable themselves but made in UNsustainable factories
  • Complex jargon that only experts in the field could parse through
  • Company claims with no evidence to back them up
  • Misleading imagery or greenery, lush forests, and landscapes

Clues That A Brand Is Truly Sustainable

Once you learn to spot greenwashing, you’ll also become better at noticing which brands are truly walking the walk with sustainability. A few common clues include:

  • Transparency about the brand’s sourcing, manufacturing, and supply chains, with as much traceability as possible
  • Evidence to back their claims, including consumer access to view third-party certifications and details about the brand’s carbon footprint
  • Specific, measurable, and clearly stated sustainability goals
  •  Certifications like Fair Trade, OEKO-TEX, GOTS, and other reputable third-party evaluations

Ideally, as consumers become more savvy, greenwashing will continue to lose its power. Discerning shoppers want brands that make that world a better place, and as more companies realize this, more will do the work to become genuinely sustainable. When we use our purchasing power to buy truly sustainable products whenever possible, brands get the message and start to make change. We can make a difference with our choices!

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