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What is greenwashing? A guide to avoiding it

Now more than ever, we as consumers are increasingly aware of the impact our shopping habits have on the environment, and many of us are taking conscious steps to shop more sustainably. Whether they be cruelty free, vegan, plastic free and/or ethically sourced products, shoppers are becoming more mindful of where their products have come from. Whatever the reason, everyone is playing their part to shop ‘greener’ – and businesses are recognising this, too. 

Whilst we may have the best intentions at heart when making purchases, big businesses can often take advantage and use a technique known as ‘greenwashing’ to entice customers. Greenwashing can make purchasing decisions confusing with dubious claims and marketing jargon used in an attempt to appear more sustainable or environmentally-friendly than they really are. So how can you spot greenwashing and known when to avoid it?

What is green washing?

Greenwashing is a marketing technique used by businesses and companies to persuade the public that their products, aims and policies are more environmentally-friendly and sustainable than they are in reality. It is essentially a way to mislead shoppers and a form of false advertising. Greenwashing is targeted to appeal to consumers who care about sustainability and the environment, by trying to make themselves or their goods sound more ethical. 

Increasing demand from eco-friendly customers has created a marketing goldmine that is easily exploited by companies, some of which will go to lengths to appear conscious and sustainable to drive sales. When companies invest more time and money into making their products and/or brand seem ‘green’ rather than actually doing the hard work and implementing meaningful change, they are greenwashing. 

Some examples of greenwashing include promoting the company’s use of paper straws, when in actual fact the straws are still not recyclable; or even calling something cruelty-free because the final product it is not tested on animals but in actual fact the ingredients in the product have been tested on animals. Another prominent example of this is shampoo companies advertising their bottles as “made from recycled material” when, in fact, only 25% of the bottle is made from recycled plastic.

Why is greenwashing bad?

Greenwashing is bad because it means the brands who are eco-friendly have to work twice as hard to make a real impact. When consumers cannot tell the difference between eco-friendly, ethical products and products which are damaging to the planet, nobody wins. 

Greenwashing allows unethical brands to convince buyers that they’re making changes when in actual fact they could be exploiting their workers, using potentially dangerous ingredients and damaging the environment. 

Remember – it is far more cost-effective for these unethical companies to spend money marketing themselves as green or eco-friendly business, rather than actually implementing these necessary changes into their business practices.

Some examples of greenwashing may be unintentional but it is important to be mindful of the possibility that brands could be intentionally misleading consumers, taking advantage of your good conscious and values as a marketing tool.

How can you avoid greenwashing?

To avoid companies using greenwashing techniques, researching a brand before making a purchase can help you make informed decisions. Most brands will have a section on their website which outlines their manifesto but if their website is still unclear, this could be a red flag. You can also write to them to ask them to clarify their stance and describe what work they are doing to be sustainable. Holding companies accountable is key to affecting real change. 

If you’d like to avoid falling for greenwashing claims, you can use our following tips…

1. Do all their products reflect their values, or just a few?

Be wary of those companies that ‘jump on the bandwagon’ when it comes to being eco-friendly. They may have one green product at the forefront but lurking behind this may be a whole host of not-so-green ones. A good example of this is a clothing store putting a lot of marketing behind a few outfits that is made from recycled material, but the rest of their store is not.

Food boxes, often promoted as a solution to the problem of food wastage are an example of this. In theory, ordering basic groceries to be delivered to your door sounds like a great idea – but could easily lead to more pollution due to increased traffic congestion. Plus, food boxes tend to come filled with single use plastics – something a truly green company would look to avoid.

2. Watch out for claims that aren’t backed by research 

Using words such as ‘clean’ or ‘green’ placed in front of it, is most likely an attempt at green-washing. This can be seen regular within the beauty industry with ingredients such as coal. Coal is mined, shipped, and burned, releasing emissions every step of the way – it can’t be clean or natural – no matter what the marketing people say. Watch out for these adjectives as they may be designed to misdirect you from the truth. If you can’t find any solid scientific evidence to back the claims – assume there is none. 

3. Eco-lingo and cute marketing

Images of leaves, friendly paw-print or nature-themed logo can be slapped onto products to signal a vague sense ‘eco-friendliness’. Be sure to search for authentic cruelty free symbols, like the vegan leaping bunny logo. Other vague marketing language seen in green-washed companies include buzz-words like ‘non-toxic’, ‘natural’ and ‘pure’. 

4. Heavy Polluters partnering with green charities 

Another example of piggybacking on the good deeds of another company to sell more products. This scheme allows large corporations to create a smoke screen, hiding behind the charities affiliated with their brand, without implementing or affecting any change within their businesses. Shopping with smaller, independent companies can reduce this risk. Smaller companies tend to have less money to throw at creating a green sheen on their products and therefore have to have a more transparent approach to sharing their realities with their customers. 

At Ionian Kind, we understand that no person or business can be perfect but we firmly believe that making small changes can help contribute toward saving the planet. Ionian Kind is committed to being transparent and making positive changes to support the environment and seeks to work with brands who share in our values – but also understand that there is always more work to be done. No one is perfect but our small changes can make a big impact. 

We work closely with our brands to develop packaging and products that are sustainable and ethically sourced. This is an ongoing process but sustainably is at the heart of our ethos. If you’d like to learn about our values, visit our About Us page for more.