The Lies of Greenwashing

With the increasing commonality of discussions surrounding climate change, sustainable consumption has become a popular talking point in recent years. Large corporations and small businesses alike have taken to selling “green, sustainable, eco-friendly” products. Marketing such products seems like a great idea. However, environmentally friendly advertising does not necessarily correlate with environmentally friendly efforts. When companies mislead consumers to believe their products help the environment, this is known as “greenwashing.”

While it sounds like a good thing, greenwashing is deceitful and harmful. Companies lead consumers to believe that by buying or using their products, the consumer is helping to sustain or heal the environment. This is all well and good, if the products actually do what the marketing says they do. Often though, the products do little-to-nothing to protect the environment. Sometimes, the products are made in a variety of environmentally damaging ways.

Businesses are profit-motivated, which makes sense in our current political-economic structure. A small business owner needs to make as much money off of sales as possible in order to keep their business running and their family fed. A large corporation CEO wants to ensure the company continues to make profits so employees remain content and the money from excess profit continues to fill the bosses’ pockets. Without profit, families cannot live comfortably and bosses cannot live lavishly.

This is where marketing techniques come into play. Greenwashing, as first introduced by environmentalist Jay Westerveld in 1986, relies on the good intentions of the consumers to buy more products from companies deemed to be “environmentally friendly,” while focusing less on the actual environmental harms of the product and its production process. Think about the various products you have bought recently that emphasized their
environmental benefits. How much of that advertising were words that had no real meaning? Marketing teams love to label products as “eco-friendly,” “green” and “natural” with little explanation of the terms.

It is easy to be fooled by green washing; after all, it is the marketer’s job to get more people to buy more products. Environmental consciousness is important in today’s society and companies have picked up on that. The push for paper straws can be attributed to this realization and to green washing. Yes, paper straws harm the environment less than plastic straws, but they are not entirely environmentally friendly.

Not every product advertising their environmental friendliness is practicing greenwashing, however. Companies that take steps to make their goods and their production processes healthier for the environment usually detail such efforts on their websites. Taking a few moments to learn where and how a company makes their products before buying from that company goes a long way to protecting the environment.

So while buying that “eco-friendly” product may seem like a good idea, it is best to research how its production affected the environment. We as consumers in a capitalist society hold a wonderful power–we have the power to determine what companies we give our money to. Make the right consumer decisions and help truly protect our environment. Taking the time to learn about environmentally friendly companies and products, when done properly, can only benefit our lives and the Earth.

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