Published: Sept. 27, 2023 By

paint roller with greenwashing written in paintAs consumers focus more on the environmental impact of products, companies look to cash in by identifying their products as sustainable or environmentally friendly. However, not all brands follow the practices they claim. When businesses falsely promote their products' environmental or sustainable benefits, it is called greenwashing. 

Some examples of greenwashing include a company saying their products are made entirely of recycled materials when they only use a portion of recycled materials. Or a company claims each purchased product leads to planting a tree, but the company doesn’t follow through with the accurate number of trees. Greenwashing usually includes exaggerations that mislead customers. 

Are environmental claims regulated? 

The U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) protects consumers by enforcing laws to ensure a fair marketplace. Here are some of the current guidelines put in place. 

  • Packaging and advertising should explain the product’s green claims in easy-to-understand terms.  

  • Environmental marketing claims should specify whether they refer to the product, packaging or both. 

  • Marketing claims should not overstate, directly or indirectly, an environmental attribute or benefit. 

How to avoid greenwashing 

As a consumer, your best tool to combat greenwashing is research. Investigate the brand before purchasing products that claim to be sustainable to ensure their practices match their claims.  

You can start by reading online product reviews or researching the resources a company uses to produce its products. Almost every product type has an environmental certification, like clothes, furniture and household goods. Cradle2Cradle is a popular certification that many consumers trust. In this case, you can search for certified products and review the level of sustainability. 

Watch for these common greenwashing practices when researching products. 

  • Unclear language or terms with no specific meaning or implication, like eco-friendly. 

  • Suggestive images that give an unjustified green impression without providing specific data about the product or brand. 

  • Irrelevant claims with a heavy emphasis on one small green attribute without mention of how the rest of the company works. 

  • A claim that might be correct, but the company provides no evidence to support the claim. 

Implementing sustainable buying habits 

Becoming a conscious consumer can benefit the environment, your wallet and the quality of your products. 

Try to borrow or reuse items and buy second-hand or local when you can. Also, take the time to find out what you’re purchasing before you spend your money. You may have to read between the lines to discover the truth about brands. The effort you make in the beginning will save time and benefit your future buying decisions. 

Take a holistic approach to the process when making purchase decisions. If you find a sustainable brand that ships from across the world, then it may not make sense for you to make the purchase. Also, be aware that genuinely sustainable products may cost more. If the product is sustainable, it will likely be of a higher quality that lasts longer, making the extra money upfront worth it in the long run. For example, fast fashion is cheap but lower quality and wears out quicker.  

The Bottom Line 

As a consumer, voting with your dollar and buying sustainably sourced and durable products is important. However, be aware of companies trying to profit from your desire to live a sustainable lifestyle by researching the companies you support. 

You can download the AWorld app from ActNow to track your sustainable actions, learn ways to implement sustainability into your daily life and participate in challenges with others in the CU community.