If you haven’t ever heard of ‘greenwashing’, it’s a term used to describe a company’s or organisation’s marketing tactics that promote a product or service as being environmentally friendly when in fact they are not. Here are a few examples of ‘greenwashing’ that I’ve come across myself:
- A bar promoting the switch to paper straws when those paper straws are not recycled or composted.
- A coffee chain promoting their paper straws that come individually wrapped in plastic packaging.
- A shampoo company advertising a product’s packaging as being manufactured partly from ‘beach plastic’ when their other ethics are not so squeaky clean.
- A company selling toilet rolls in ‘compostable’ packaging, when the small print informs the customer that the packaging will only break down in an industrial composter with additional enzymes.
- Nappies claiming to be ‘pure and natural’ because they supposedly contain organic cotton, when disposable nappies take hundreds of years to decompose in landfill.
- Bottled water packaged in thinner bottles and therefore using a certain percentage less plastic when simply using a reusable water bottle would save on the bottle in the first place.
- Companies using the term ‘natural’ or ‘chemical-free’ to sell products, when there are an awful lot of natural things that are actually very dangerous, eg arsenic, and an awful lot of chemicals that are perfectly harmless, eg water.
- Companies using greenwashing to distract the consumer from the other disastrous impacts they have on the environment. For example, oil and gas companies or airlines advertising about the amount of trees they plant in some kind of attempt at carbon offsetting.
At the moment, we’re experiencing what has become known as the ‘Blue Planet Effect’. Thanks to Sir David Attenborough, there has been a huge increase recently in awareness about environmental issues. Finally, consumers are realising that they have the power to tell businesses what they do and don’t want and businesses are listening. The result of this is that lots of companies are desperate to establish their green credentials. Some of them are grasping at (paper) straws to find some claim of environmentally friendliness about their product or service.
I’d like to think that some of the greenwashing that is rife at the moment is simply companies navigating their way on their own journey towards producing less waste, much as we individuals do, except we have a lot less media attention. As I gradually figured out my shopping routine, which is still evolving by the way, I only had myself and the readers of my blog to think about. Big, international companies have hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of customers watching their every move.
Then I started wondering if I’ve ever done any greenwashing myself. Have I ever led my readers to believe that we are more environmentally friendly than we are? I like to think that our journey towards zero waste is as transparent as possible. My plastic audits for Plastic Free July have been pretty accurate. There’s been a few ice cream wrappers chucked in bins out of the home and the odd bit of packaging that might have missed the audit, but on the whole WYSIWYG. Similarly, our jar of landfill waste during Zero Waste Week is true to life.
Could I be more transparent? What are the biggest impacts on the environment for our family of five?
- Transport. We have two cars. Living in a village with three children and a bus service that isn’t as good as it once was, two cars are unfortunately necessary. My husband cycles to work two or three days a week to reduce the fuel that he uses, seeing as he has the bigger car.
- Holidays. We tend to holiday in the UK, mostly camping or staying with family, and go abroad every other year. My husband occasionally travels with work.
- Energy. We use Bulb as our energy supplier, but we don’t yet create any of our own energy. This is something we’d like to consider for the future.
- Diet. We’ve reduced our meat intake significantly over the last few years. I can’t see us as a family ever going completely vegetarian let alone vegan, but I personally consume a lot fewer animal products than I used to and I feel healthier as a result. I explained here about my reluctance to label my diet.
I’ve tried to avoid greenwashing you, but working out what is really green and what is actually just greenwashing can be tricky. Be vigilant for those words like ‘natural’ and ‘chemical-free’ and ask yourself what they really mean. Take those eco claims with a big pinch of salt, question everything and do your research. Ask yourself why a company is so eager to prove their green credentials. Are they trying to hide anything? Don’t be afraid to email companies to ask for clarity, but be prepared to take those replies with another pinch of salt. And, most importantly, remember the ‘Waste Hierarchy’:
- Refuse what you do not need. Do you actually need to use this product/service at all? Can you do without it?
- Reduce what you use. If you have to use the product/service, can you use less of it?
- Reuse. Do you already have something that will fulfil the reason you think you need this product/service? Or if you really have to use it, can it be reused in any way to get the maximum use out of it?
- Recycle. Can any of it be recycled in any way?
- Rot. Will it rot down to be used as compost?
(This blog post contains our referral link to Bulb. Anyone switching to Bulb through our referral link gets £50 as do we. It’s a win-win situation!)
A Green and Rosie Life