The green sheen of Greenwashing

The term ‘greenwashing’ refers to the act of misleading consumers regarding the environmental practices of a company or the benefits of a product or service. It is an issue coming further into prominence as the global environmental conscience grows.

While more and more people are being mindful of climate change and environmental impacts in their day-to-day life, many businesses are taking advantage of the public’s growing preference to make environmentally friendly choices by branding their products and services as ‘green’, when they actually have no grounds for claiming the title. Underwriters Laboratories have identified several sins associated with greenwashing; vagueness, unsubstantiated claims, irrelevance, hidden trade-offs, false labels, fibbing and the lesser of two evils.

Photo courtesy of evohe.com.au

Some items that claim to be ‘natural’ may contain toxic substances like arsenic or mercury, which are indeed ‘natural’ but are not necessarily safe. Others may claim to be ‘CFC Free’, but as CFCs were banned years ago, such a claim has become irrelevant. When a product claims to be recyclable, it may only refer to the packaging and not to the product itself. When a product claims to use ‘green’ resources, it may still use harmful chemicals or processes during production. And some products stand as contradictions, for example; ‘organic cigarettes’ or ‘fuel-efficient sport-utility vehicles’.

The trend is concerning for consumers as they often find themselves paying more when they buy products made by companies who are simply cashing in on the hype associated with eco-friendly options.

To be sure you’re not fooled by the fad, here are some tips to ensure the products and services you pay for are making legitimate claims:

  • Don’t just be distracted by the packaging, fancy logos and marketing hype;
  • Read the label; look out for products that’s claims are defined, detailed and backed by knowledge;
  • Be wary of environmental claims that do not outline the products impact throughout its entire life-cycle, look for products that outline their life-cycle from the point of manufacture to reuse or recycle;
  • Check the ingredients to be sure they are listed in full and in plain English so you are able to look them up if you wish;
  • Look out for helpful contact information; if a product offers contact details or sources to find out information and evidence about their product and their claims, they are more likely to be legitimate;
  • Look for products and services that are endorsed or certified by reputable organisations.

Nowadays, choosing ‘green’ products doesn’t always mean paying more. When you travel, you can save money and be green by exploring a new city on a bicycle or using public transport instead of hiring a car. There are many budget accommodations and experiences that operate responsibly, contribute back to conservation and do their part to be accountable for their impact on their surrounds. Ecotourism Australia is committed to certifying tourism operators that are environmentally sustainable and culturally and social responsible, and are proud to have certified a diverse range of tourism operations to suit all preferences and budgets.

To read more about Greenwashing, check out these articles:
Drowning in Greenwash
Greenwashing: Can you trust the label?
What is Greenwashing?: Your guide to misadvertising

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