It surrounds us. In the supermarket, at the mall, even in our own homes – and yet, we barely even realize – that we are being greenwashed.
Plastic water bottles decorated with images of pristine lakes, verdant forests and snow-capped mountains and earth toned packaging littered with “clean”, “green” and “natural” jargon.
This is greenwashing.
More precisely, greenwashing is when a company or brand deceives consumers by falsely marketing their products as eco-friendly - when they really aren’t.
Some brands do it knowingly, others perhaps accidentally. But either way, many brands are using attractive and misleading pitches to sell a beautiful dream, when in reality, the products they claim are good for the environment are in fact causing harm.
And shockingly, it is more common than you may think.
So, the next time you’re shopping, keep an eye out for the following promises:
When something is listed as “biodegradable”, it means that the materials can be broken down by bacteria and other microorganisms, into its natural elements, carbon dioxide, and water vapor. But it’s not just organic items that can biodegrade. Remarkably we now have biodegradable plastics.
These plastics are touted as the next green material – with some major bonuses, they aren’t made from oil but instead sugars like cornstarch (PLA’s) or by microorganisms (PHA’s), and they produce significantly fewer greenhouse gas emissions over their lifetime than oil based plastics – cool, right?!
Well, there is a catch – and this is where the greenwashing comes in - 79% of all our waste ends up in landfill, which are anaerobic environments (meaning that they lack oxygen) where the microorganisms needed to breakdown our matter cannot survive. So, these new biodegradable alternatives don’t degrade in landfill and instead, sit amongst huge piles of trash releasing methane – a potent greenhouse gas, into the atmosphere.
But don’t despair. You can help - set yourself up with an at home composter or join in with a local composting program. Some (not all - check the label) bioplastics will degrade in a composter – and that’s because these are aerobic environments, where oxygen and microorganisms are able to flourish and biodegrade products without the creation of harmful greenhouse gases.
Alternatively, look for items that are made with easily degradable organic materials like paper, wood, and cork and compost them at home (even organic matter in landfill produces potent methane gas) and add the newly created nutrient rich soil to your flowerbeds to help your trees and plants grow.
There are plenty of fashion brands that market “sustainable” products but are only partly living up to the claim. Consider fast fashion juggernaut H&M who have been exploring organic cotton and recycled materials in their conscious collections. A positive step forward – but they are still greenwashing - because they are producing clothes in unsustainable volumes.
It’s not just environmental impact that needs to be considered when you are marketing a product as sustainable. Sustainable products should also be ethical and responsible. Take Reformation, for example. The highly coveted brand is 100% carbon-neutral, invests in water restoration and clean energy programs, and publishes a quarterly sustainability report in the name of being transparent – awesome - but in June this year, during the height of the Black Lives Matter protests, Reformation was exposed as having a toxic culture of racism. Former black employees took to social media to reveal shocking stories about how they were discriminated against, mistreated and at times completely ignored. For a brand that markets itself as being “ethical” and sustainable, their practices behind the scenes seem far from it.
Surprisingly, companies can claim that their products are “cruelty free” without a shred of evidence to support it – all because the term is not legally defined. This means that brands can say that their products are not tested on animals when really they are. Even some of the biggest names in beauty are guilty of this.
For example, the highly popular makeup brand MAC markets itself as “cruelty free” while the makeup they sell in China is tested on animals. MAC claim that because they do not own any testing facilities and the tests are issued by the government, they are still themselves “cruelty-free”.
You can navigate this minefield by keeping an eye out for certifications – often too expensive for smaller brands, there are trusted logos and stamps out there designed to help consumers identify honest brands. For example, look for the “leaping bunny” symbol. Formed by the Coalition for Consumer Information on Cosmetics (CCIC), the Leaping Bunny Program provides certification for companies that do not use animal testing – and are truly cruelty free.
Our planet has finite resources, and we are being drowned in unsold and barely worn clothes. So, it is vital that we as consumers educate ourselves on which brands are truly sustainable and which ones are only pretending to be.
By supporting truly clean and green brands, we can vote the greenwashing brands out and vote in the genuinely ethical and sustainable brands - ultimately changing the way we use our planet’s resources and how we manufacture our goods.
So, if you want to feel confident that you aren’t making your next purchase thanks to a side of greenwashing check the label, look out for companies offering up transparency and refer to apps like goodonyou, who rate brands for their sustainability efforts.
Let’s stop the cycle and create the change we want to see.
Sustainability is at the heart of everything we do at Teddy Locks. We consciously bank with an ethical and local BCorp, only work with local and recycled fibers, while supporting small and female owned businesses. You can read more about our footprint in our “Sustainability” tab where we are fully transparent about our materials and supply chain.
- Kira Barrett