A Quick Primer on Greenwashing
Consumers are demanding more environmentally responsible products and so industries and advertisers are putting more environmental claims on packaging. But are they true? “One hundred percent pure spring water from the mountains of Canada,” sounds pretty good, but “pure” according to whom?
The phenomenon of placing environmental claims on products that aren’t necessarily true, verified or meaningful is commonly referred to as “greenwashing.” Merriam-Webster lists the definition as “expressions of environmentalist concerns especially as a cover for products, policies, or activities.” Consumers think they’re getting an environmentally responsible product, but are they?
UL Environment tests and validates a manufacturer’s environmental claims about a product’s sustainability such as recycled content, energy efficiency and water efficiency, so you can feel confident about your green product choices.
Here are a few tips consumers can use to avoid being greenwashed:
- Read the label. Look for verifiable words, not general ones such as “natural,” “real” or “environmentally friendly.” Watch for over-descriptive language that romances rather than relates facts. And any product that lists “poison, “danger” or “warning” on the label is probably not good for you or the environment.
- Buy local. Shopping your local farmer’s market not only supports the community, but it puts you in direct contact with the sellers and there is a higher likelihood that you can verify the environmental claims made about foods.
- Don’t get sold by one environmental claim. A product that is energy efficient but also highly toxic to the environment is not the most environmentally responsible choice.
- Watch for Deceptive Claims. It’s great that a product is listed as CFC free. But when you learn that CFCs were banned altogether more than 20 years ago, you realize that this doesn’t make the product any more or less environmentally friendly than any other product. Also watch for other possible contradictory claims such as “organic cigarettes” and “eco-friendly pesticide.”
- Find third-party validation. Look for independent validation from a trusted source such as UL Environment.
- Check their charity. A popular marketing technique is for companies to donate to an environmental cause when you buy their products. Just make sure their products aren’t harming the environment in the meantime.1
- Trust your instincts. Most of us have a built-in warning system for things that just don’t seem right. Look behind the green marketing hype to find out what companies are really doing before supporting them with your hard-earned dollars.