Ever purchase from H&M, Starbucks, or Simple Green Cleaning because they are a more sustainable option? Clearly you have not done your research. There is currently an epidemic plaguing the United States and it is called Greenwashing. Greenwashing is the act in which a company exploits its customers through disingenuously marketing its products as environmentally friendly with the goal of gaining public approval and sales. Integrating sustainability measures is a major trend right now for companies to use in their products, services and marketing. Utilizing eco-friendly measures in their products allows companies to promote their philanthropic image and represent an ideology rather than just a product. Consequently, consumers are more likely to buy from the company that tells a story and stands for their beliefs; however, the validity of some companies’ claims are questionable.
One may think all it takes is a little common sense to understand whether the product you are buying is actually as sustainable as it says; however, it may be harder than you think. In 2018, Starbucks replaced all of its single use plastic straws with a thicker strawless lid. This effort was done to reduce the amount of plastic waste however it just replaced one plastic for another. Starbucks can claim they have made efforts to be sustainable when in reality the reduction in plastic usage is much less significant than the amount of their plastic products being wasted. Notorious fast fashion retailer H&M misled customers into believing that their clothes were more environmentally conscious than they actually were and Simple Green Cleaning marketed their products as “non-toxic” when they actually contained chemicals dangerous to humans and animals.
Misleading information is nothing new in advertising. Take a look at any fast food ads and compare the image to the real product and the difference is unmistakable. However the act of Greenwashing is dangerously misleading and can encourage consumers to purchase products which are unethical or even pay higher for a perceived “sustainable” item. In some instances information may be completely false in which case may lead to the company being sued such as H&M. Green Washing minimizes the efforts of companies who are actually acting sustainably and making conscious choices rather than those who are simply seeking to improve their image. Ways to identify if the item you are purchasing is actually sustainable including no support of their claim, using vague terminology or buzzwords, and suggestive imagery such as green packaging. For those serious about purchasing sustainably, conduct research into the companies you are purchasing from and their alternatives. Greenwashing can cause serious damage so be mindful of how you are being marketed to and always know where you are buying from.