Greenwashing Is Real—Here’s How to Avoid It

Lola Mendez

Sustainability is so hot right now. While some brands create truly sustainable products or use closed-loop production methods, some brands are misusing terms to attract conscientious clientele. “Greenwashed” products use deceptive eco-friendly jargon without full transparency as a lucrative strategy to appease do-good consumers. As a result, well-intended shoppers unknowingly purchase products after being misled by phony green initiatives that promote unsubstantiated claims.

“Greenwashing means that a company puts forward what they deem to be a positive public relations move without actually changing things for the environment. Companies greenwash to pretend they’re addressing an issue, while in reality, they’re just looking to silence environmental critics,” Perry Wheeler, a spokesperson for Greenpeace USA, says.

A brand’s commitment to sustainability may be more about consumer perception than a genuine desire to be earth-friendly. “It’s rare to find a company that prioritizes true sustainability efforts without greenwash,” Perry says. Many brands greenwash by leaving sustainability in the hands of the consumer. For instance, using recyclable packaging is only eco-friendly if the consumer properly recycles it. And an eco-friendly item that’s shipped thousands of miles isn’t an environmentally sound purchase unless you’re utilizing the carbon-offset shipping methods offered by DHL or UPS.

Greenwashing is minimally regulated but falls under the Green Guides of the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), which monitors truth in advertising. Deciphering whether a brand is truly making strides to minimally impact the environment is mostly up to the consumer. Responsible shoppers have to research and look for red flags, including jargon that does not provide verifying claims. Perry suggests being wary of vague catchall terms such as sustainable, socially responsible, eco-friendly, bioplastic, or recycled content. “While some of these terms can be legitimate, they’re often slapped onto products to convince buyers that they’re good for the environment. Always dig deeper into what the terms mean for a specific company,” he says.

Aurora Sharrard, the director of sustainability at the University of Pittsburgh, refers me to the TerraChoice environmental marketing agency’s Seven Sins of Greenwashing: hidden trade-off, no proof, vagueness, worshiping false labels, irrelevance, lesser of two evils, and fibbing. To avoid greenwashed hype, support brands with detailed information on their website about their sustainability efforts. Look for unbiased third-party assessments, labels, and awards such as Fairtrade, the Environmental Protection Agency’s Safer Choice, GreenSeal, GREENGUARD, SEAL, OEKO-TEX standard, and Global Organic Textile Standard.

Purchase home goods from companies that have met stringent environmental and social sustainability criteria to earn B Corporation Certification. Native Trails is a B Corp offering artisan-crafted kitchen and bath products including hand-hammered recycled copper sinks, vanities made of reclaimed and FSC certified wood, and more. Goodee is a sustainable marketplace of home goods with B Corp certification offering a collection of living room, kitchen, bath, workplace, and bedroom decor. Each item is vetted by an in-house sustainability team to ensure products are ethically made and transparently sourced. Leesa Sleep mattresses received a Best for the World award in 2019. The recognition is exclusively given to the top-scoring certified B Corps.

Originally Appeared on Architectural Digest