What is Greenwashing and How Does it Affect Me?

Greenwashing is a deceitful marketing tactic used by brands. Understand how brands use greenwashing and how to avoid it in this article.

What is Greenwashing and How Does it Affect Me?
Photo by mali maeder from Pexels

One of the most effective ways to make an impact is by voting with your dollar. But what if the purchases you make aren’t what they seem? Marketing can be a powerful sales tool and with the rise in consumer affinity for sustainable products has come a rise in deceptive marketing tactics.

As a consumer, you may wonder how you can avoid the impacts of deceitful marketing. In this post, we’ll break down what greenwashing is along with how to spot and avoid it.

What is greenwashing?

Greenwashing is a specific deceptive marketing tactic where companies use the color green, paired with words like “natural”, and organic imagery to appear sustainable. While these efforts can make a company or product appear sustainable, they’re not backed by any real initiatives.

Greenwashing can go further than just using green packaging. “Natural” means little-to-nothing in terms of food, meanwhile, “natural” and “organic” are both completely unregulated by the FDA when it comes to cosmetics. This means that virtually any company can completely legally claim their products are organic or natural, no matter what they’re made of.

Not all greenwashing efforts are lies, though. In fact, some environmental claims are entirely true, but they’re used as a distraction from the real harm done. Terra Choice Marketing calls this tactic the Sin of The Hidden Tradeoff, wherein a company promotes one minor positive impact while ignoring all the remaining negative effects of their actions.

What are some examples of greenwashing?

Photo by Anna Shvets from Pexels

Take a walk down the hair care or produce aisle and you’re sure to find a few examples of greenwashing around you. You may be surprised to find some products in your own pantry or closet.

  • Green labels — using green or other environmentally conscious imagery in logos, packaging, and more
  • Vague claims — ambiguous statements that can’t be proven
  • Half-truths — benefits that while technically true, don’t outweigh the harm done, but not mentioned

Innisfree came under fire not long ago for their “Hello, I’m Paper Bottle” packaging, which concealed a plastic bottle underneath. At first glance, this product appears to be a positive alternative to other plastic bottles in the beauty aisle. However, after closer inspection, you’d notice not only is the bottle actually plastic, the paper around it is adding extra packaging. Some companies will spend more money trying to convince consumers they’re environmentally conscious than investing in sustainable processes.

What about rainbow washing?

Did you happen to notice your entire feed go rainbow this month? Everyone from LinkedIn to your bank has changed their logo to a rainbow version in honor of Pride Month, but what is the impact of a rainbow logo?

No matter who you love, you should have the right to get insurance, get married, and not be discriminated against based on your identity. Less than a decade ago, same-sex marriage was still not yet legal in all 50 states, and there’s still more work to be done until we’re able to achieve equality.

While we’re excited to see a wave of support from large corporations during the month of June, we urge companies to do more than change their logo this year. Consider:

  • Implementing diversity and inclusion initiatives
  • Supporting local and national LGBTQ+ groups
  • Partnering with nonprofit organizations supporting LGBTQ+ rights
  • Making LGTBQ+ rights top-of-mind all year long

How to Identify & Avoid Deceptive Marketing Tactics

Whether it’s greenwashing, rainbow washing, or the next deceptive marketing tactic, it’s important to understand how you can avoid being misled as a consumer. As long as positioning their brands in this light resonates with consumers, it will continue to be used for sales.

Read past the label.

Watch out for vague and misleading marketing messages. Don’t take everything on product packaging or in an ad at face value. If a product is labeled as “natural” or “organic”, look closer to see what it’s really made of.

Do your research.

There are many certifications that are issued by unbiased third parties. This list of certifications can be great to look out for before buying consumer products. You can also browse the B Corp Directory to find Certified B Corp Companies.

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