Put simply, ‘greenwashing’ is the practice of companies making themselves seem more environmentally friendly than they actually are, to convince you to buy from them.
Energy industry greenwashing involves companies claiming to be 100% renewable despite not buying power directly from renewable generators. Or in the case of fossil fuel giants like Shell, promoting renewable services while continuing to invest billions in fossil fuel extraction. We’ve written lots of blogs about greenwashing and created a video explaining how it works and why we’re different.
But greenwashing isn’t just a problem in the energy industry and influences the types of purchases we make day to day. With the year’s busiest shopping season upon us, we explore what greenwashing can look like for different products and offer some tips for finding genuinely green gems.
Big brands have made a big noise launching sustainable collections. Promoted based on using a proportion of recycled textiles and natural materials, they may be a step in the right direction, but they often represent a drop in a fast fashion ocean.
For example, ASOS’s ‘circular’ collection makes up under 0.1% of their product offering, raising the question of whether it makes any difference to their environmental footprint. Vogue has reported on H&M also being called out for greenwashing, by not being able to back up marketing claims that their Conscious collection is really better for the environment.
How to find style with sustainable substance
Much like ‘renewable’ and ‘green’ in the energy industry, fashion marketing is awash with words like conscious, natural, responsible, ethically made and sustainably sourced.
To find genuinely environmentally conscious items, take time to research how companies make or source their products. If they are genuinely committed to sustainability, this information should be readily available on their website. Allbirds and Kuyichi are great examples of this. Ethical rating websites such as Good On You can also help you find brands that fit your environmental values.
At the moment, sustainable brands tend to be expensive. So it’s also worth noting that how you buy is just as important as what you buy. To start with, appreciate and look after what you already have. When it comes to buying new, make sure you genuinely love something and will wear it time and time again, whatever its price tag. And remember, buying second hand is a simple way to reduce the impact of refreshing your wardrobe.
Hair & skin care
Environmentally friendly skin and haircare products are big business, with the New York Times reporting that ‘clean’ beauty is expected to be worth $25 billion a year by 2025. Unfortunately, it’s surprisingly easy for brands to sound greener than they are. For example, research by Good Energy partner, the Soil Association,has found that a product can legally contain just 1% organic ingredients to label itself as organic.
Soil Association Certification is independent and rigorous. We review the entire manufacturing process including sourcing of ingredients, formulation procedures and premises, as well as packaging.– The Soil Association, What is Organic Beauty Certification?
Just as in the fashion industry, some brands use words like natural, pure and clean in their names or marketing because of their positive associations. To make sure you’re getting what you think you are, look beyond the marketing and see if products have been certified by trusted organisations.
For example, COSMOS is an international beauty certification scheme co-founded by the Soil Association. If a brand or product features a Soil Association or COSMOS logo, it has had to meet stringent criteria including sourcing and processing ingredients sustainably and minimising environmental impact. You can also check for the Leaping Bunny logo, which shows a product hasn’t been tested on animals.
When it comes to the weekly shop, with the boom in vegan, vegetarian and flexitarian diets many of us might see ‘plant based’ or ‘meat free’ on packaging and assume it’s better for the planet and our health. Images of green open fields, forests and well cared for animals can also influence how green or ethically produced we perceive products to be.
Debating the environmental impact of different diets is an entire issue of its own. So to focus on greenwashing, once again, look beyond advertising to labels and research how brands source their products. If you can, buy produce from local traders, such as butchers supplied by local farms.
In the supermarket, it can also help to look out for trusted certification marks such as the Rainforest Alliance and the Soil Association. And resources such as Ethical Consumer can help you see whether company commitments to reduce packaging or cut emissions are being followed up with action.
What can be done about greenwashing?
If you’ve been misled by how a product is advertised, you can complain to the Advertising Standards Agency. If you feel you’ve been misled by your energy supplier, you can also make a complaint to your supplier and escalate it to the Ombudsman.
Greenwashing may be rife across lots of sectors. But by questioning green claims, you can reduce your impact and support businesses that are doing the right thing by our planet.