Are You Being Greenwashed This Holiday Season?

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Are You Being Greenwashed This Holiday Season?

By Cat O’Brien

Holiday cheer (and holiday consumption) are upon us. 

Maybe you’ve made your list, checked it twice, and have all the gifts, decorations, and food necessary. Or maybe, if you’re like me, you’ll get it done later. 

And, if you’re like me, you know that you want to buy responsibly this holiday season. You’re willing to spend a little bit more on sustainable and eco-friendly products. You look out for ‘non-toxic’ cleaners and ‘natural’ products to prepare for your holiday guests. 

But not all sustainable products are as they appear. In fact, many products that claim to be eco-friendly ─  98% according to one study ─ are worse than they let on. This is what we call greenwashing. (We’ll come back to that 98% in a minute). 

So, as you hunt down the finest pair of cozy pj’s and top off the Christmas stockings, make sure you don’t get duped by greenwashing corporations.

What Is Greenwashing?

Greenwashing is the practice of misleading consumers to believe that a product is more eco-friendly than it actually is.

Dishonest marketing campaigns are cashing in on our desire to protect our environment. Upwards of 77% of people want to live more sustainably. That’s a large share of the market. 

There is danger in this trend. It means that it’s profitable to be eco-friendly. This is great when business practices are honest. But, unfortunately, that is rarely the case.

You’ll Be Shocked How Often It Happens

Greenwashing happens in all industries. From real estate to grocery stores to clothing brands to cleaning products. Green marketing sells. This means that it’s taken advantage of anywhere that people spend money. 

Have you ever shopped at WholeFoods? Bought a Volkswagen (or BMW or Chevy or Ford or Mercedes-Benz?) Each of these companies has been accused of greenwashing. 

What about Windex, Tide, Nestle, or Rainforest Alliance (think Chiquita Bananas)? Again, all accused of greenwashing

Remember the study that revealed that 98% of sustainable products are greenwashed? That comes from a TerraChoice Environmental Marketing study. They tracked the increase of green marketing and with it, greenwashing over the past two decades. 

The products that TerraChoice included in the study were the best sellers at big box stores. Similar in category to some of the brand names above. 

So be wary this holiday season as you look to wrap up (or start – I see you last-minute shoppers) your holiday shopping.

Why Greenwashing Matters

We’re going to talk about how to identify greenwashing soon. But first, I want to emphasize how important it is to be careful ─ especially around the holidays. 

We’re all a little guilty of splurging this time of year.

Are you tracking how much you spend on the holidays? According to a recent Gallup poll, the average American anticipates spending $852 on gifts alone this holiday season. 

That $852 does not include money spent on decorations, food, or travel ─ all of which can be greenwashed. 

For most of us, this is more money than we will spend during any other event this year. The danger of greenwashing is that we get tricked into spending all this money on harmful products. 

We’re actually putting money into the pockets of companies that use our desire to be ethical against us.

The Cost of Sustainable Practices

Everything we buy comes with both an environmental and economical cost. Even brands that work hard to lighten their carbon footprint can’t erase the toll their products take. 

True eco-friendly products don’t shy away from this reality. 

Take Patagonia’s 2011  “Don’t Buy This Jacket”  campaign. In their printed advertisements, Patagonia outlined the environmental cost of their clothes. 

The advertisement explained that each R2 jacket uses “enough water to meet the daily needs of 45 people.” Additionally, each jacket leaves behind “20 pounds of carbon dioxide, 24 times the weight of the finished product.” 

To be clear, this is a non-example of greenwashing. Patagonia’s goal was to build brand awareness. They wanted to educate their customers about the real impact of their product. And, ultimately, they were telling customers to refrain from purchasing the jacket if they didn’t actually need it. 

You’ll start to recognize greenwashing when a product claims to only do good. Products that benefit the environment without any drawback.

How You Can Recognize Greenwashing

There’s no one way to tell if a product is being greenwashed. Sometimes, it’s as easy as listening to that icky feeling in your gut. 

You know, that feeling when you see extraordinary claims about a product’s lack of impact on the environment. If it seems too good to be true, it is. 

Most times, though, recognizing greenwashing takes a little more training.

What to Look for

●      The Denier: Products that claim to be green but don’t acknowledge their environmental cost. Not every brand will be as transparent as Patagonia. But if they refuse to acknowledge even a small environmental impact, they’re not being truthful.
●      The Generalizer: Confusing or vague claims of being ‘Earth-friendly’ ‘organic’ or ‘all-natural’. What does that mean? Sustainable products are eager to share with consumers their process and their impact. If they can’t back up their vague claims, it’s a sign to look elsewhere.
●      The Stand-Alone Product: Third-party verification is important. Verification makes it easier to identify products that have been evaluated and then certified by a third-party group. But be careful – some brands try to finesse a verification look-a-like by playing with labels and design.

So, What Can You Do?

If you’re going to spend $852 dollars on gifts this year, that’s 852 opportunities to support real sustainable businesses. I know that takes a little extra effort on your part. But it’s worthwhile. 

Make it your mission this holiday season to investigate green claims before paying for a product. 

Or, take one of the easier steps below:

Visit the Ocean Blue Project Online Shop

We’re stocked up for the holidays and ready to ship (even for you last-minute shoppers) all our environmentally conscious products. This is probably the easiest way for you to buy without the threat of being greenwashed.

We’re currently in love with our “Sea The Change” microplastics t-shirts. And you can never go wrong with reusable water bottles. No buyer’s remorse here.

Use Online Tools

Take advantage of the tools available online. Use either of the websites below to help you sort out the eco-friendly from the eco-foe.  

Greener Choices: 
https://www.greenerchoices.org/ 
Need to buy a veggie burger for your vegan cousin this holiday? Or looking for the best solar company to install panels on your roof this spring? Greener choices evaluates and ranks green products and companies you can trust. 

EcoLab Index: 
http://www.ecolabelindex.com/
This resource allows you to search for and compare ecolabels. It’s helpful for when you see a company or product touting their sustainability initiatives but you’re not sure if they should be trusted.

Make Ocean Blue Project Your Amazon Smile Receipt

If nothing else (or you really are that very last minute shopper and need the expedited shipping), wrap up your holiday shopping on Amazon. And feel good about it by making Ocean Blue Project your Amazon Smile Receipt. 

This means that a portion of what you spend will be donated to us. Follow these quick and easy steps to adjust the recipient on your Amazon account.


Author bio: Cat O’Brien is a sustainability copywriter from Chicago, IL.