How to spot greenwashing

Programmers and marketing people know how to get into your subconscious – they spend millions of dollars researching colors, shapes, designs, symbols, that affect your preferences, and they can make you feel warm, trusting, like buying. They can manipulate you.
~Richard Hatch

The easiest way to spot greenwashing is to simply use your head. Don’t take what someone tells you as the gospel truth. Ask yourself a few questions:

Is this product really necessary, or is it something I can live without?
Do I have something else at home that already fulfills this function?
Can I borrow, rent, or get this product used?
Is this product merely a bid to get money for a cause? Can money be donated directly, without having to resort to buying a product?
Is the claim this product makes validated by neutral third party that often validates such products?
Is the claim specific at all?
Does the manufacturer have a reason they want to produce a green product?
Does the manufacturer have a history of environmental stewardship?

I could go on for a while. The major things to keep in mind that a lot of times, green is merely a marketing tool. Wal-mart had a commercial for carpet shampooers made with 50% recycled plastic. Sounds great, huh? Except you don’t need a carpet shampooer. If you do, you go to the front of the Wal-mart and rent one for a lot less. Sure, it’s 50% recycled plastic, but that’s 100% plastic you don’t need hanging around when you could easily obtain one for use only when you need it.

The SC Johnson Greenlist is another example. A non-specific claim with no evidence to back it up. Don’t buy into such things. It’s like those Dawn bottles with baby seals on them. There’s nothing green about having a picture of a baby seal on a bottle. It’s not giving money to organizations, and it’s not safer or better. It’s just a bottle with a cute animal on it.

Ultimately, all companies, even the ones with a noted history of environmental stewardship, are in it for the money. It’s not a bad thing…if they weren’t, they wouldn’t exist. You don’t work for free, nor should they. But keep in mind that some companies will do more to increase their profit margins than others, at any cost. Some may jump on the green bandwagon and actually try to do good. Others will hop on just to make a buck and do good anyway. Others will hop on just to make a buck and not do anything at all.

Sometimes you don’t know. Maybe SC Johnson really reformulated Windex. Maybe they didn’t. They haven’t convinced me, though, and until they do, I will consider their Greenlist to be greenwashing. Guilty until proven innocent.

It takes practice. Pick up an item that seems to make a claim, and try to figure out of it’s greenwashing or not. Do this over and over again until you get good at it. The only way people get away with greenwashing is if people don’t question it and don’t call them out on their bullshit. So question everything and don’t buy greenwashing.


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