Types of Green Washing
Green by Association
A company slathers itself in environmental terms and images so that the product seems to have environmental benefits. Products will use neutral colors or images of greenery, but in no way trying to improve their product.
Lack of Definition
A product advertises an environmental claim that sounds good but is too vague or general. Look out for terms like “green” “environmentally-friendly” “sustainable” without any explanation or certifications clearly displayed.
A common lack of definition you will see is the “Please recycle” symbol with no number associated. Shelf-stable liquid cartons, juices boxes, tetra packs, etc. are not recyclable in Davis. These packages are made of paper, plastic, and foil that need to be separated(using a lot of water!) in order to recycle. The materials in the cartons are also not likely to be used in the same process, instead, it is “down-cycled”. The plastic can be made into benches or rigid plastic plates that are not able to be recycled again.
Huggies: Pure & Natural
This line of Huggies is covered with green leaves and neutral tones. These diapers are made with organic cotton, aloe, and are hypoallergenic. However, there are still disposable diapers made with plastics in the fabric. These are landfill items and in no way benefit the environment or even coexist with it.
When environmental claims are made but the company will not or refuses to back them up.
Forgetting the Life cycle
Choosing one aspect of the product’s environmental life cycle/profile while ignoring significant effects that are not environmentally friendly. Reusable products are great, but if they are made out of silicone, they are not recyclable in Davis and are difficult to recycle if your county accepts them! Think of what will happen to your item once it tears or breaks? Can it be fixed? Can it be recycled or composted? If not, then it is not a truly sustainable product. The packaging is a big one for this type of greenwashing! Is your sustainable product packaged in filmy plastics? Does the company truly rally for environmental responsibility if their “sustainable” product is packaged in landfill materials?
These disposable water bottles are made with smaller caps, which means less plastic. This is not lying but is not “being green”. This is still a disposable water bottle and this is not going to get recycled in most counties in the USA and all over the world.
Bait and switch
When a company heavily advertises environmentally friendly attributes of one of their products while bulk manufacturing other products that are harmful to the environment.
Tom’s is owned by Colgate
Although Tom’s of Maine brand is very transparent about ingredients, many of their products are not commonly recyclable. They have a program through TerraCycle, where you can send in your old tube and deodorant sticks. However, there currently is no available space in their program to start your own collection and this program is a financial barrier for many since you are required to mail in a large box and pay the postage. Colgate has no information on their website about their environmental efforts and it is estimated that 400 million toothpaste tubes are discarded every year in the United States alone. That is a lot of unnecessary landfill.
Burt’s Bees and Green Works are owned by Clorox Bleach
Similar to Tom’s, Burt’s Bees packaging is recyclable through TerraCycle which may be a financial barrier for some. The environmental effects of bleach are controversial, better to be safe than sorry! Choose a product you know is safe for your health and the environment.
Green Works is a tough one! The product is safe and ingredients are transparent. There is information on the product on how to successfully recycle. However, at the end of the day purchasing this product supports Clorox Bleach and is therefore still green-washed.
Rallying Behind a Lower Standard
When a product earns a third-party certification that validates them but the trade association has influenced the development of the relevant standards or actively lobbies against them. Avoid the Rainforest Alliance and Fair Trade USA certifications, unless paired with other certifications. These certifications have gaps in their requirements that allow only one step in the process to be fair.
Companies will bend the truth to sound better. For example, referring to palm oil as vegetable oil to avoid the unsustainable relationship.
Unfortunately, less than seven percent of the total production of palm oil is certified as sustainable, as most companies refuse or are unable to pay the cost associated with less-destructive farming practices. When purchasing an item that contains palm oil or palm tree derived ingredients be sure it has the Palm Done Right certification.
Questions to ask yourself and tips before purchasing a product
- Don’t just assume something is truly natural because there’s a pretty sticker on the front label that claims so.
- Ask questions! Be skeptical! Who owns this company? Is it a big corporation? Where do they source their ingredients? Are the ingredients hard to find?
- Get familiar with companies, labels, and ingredients that you trust.
- Support smaller, independent, or local brands as much as possible.