Quick Guide: Greenwashing
It happens in nearly every industry: From automobiles to childrens’ toys to household goods, clothing (both new and used clothing), and even food. It can’t be completely avoided but educated consumers know how to avoid falling prey to its effect.
What is it?
What is greenwashing?
According to Wikipedia, greenwashing is a “spin in which green PR or green marketing is deceptively used to promote the perception than an organization’s products, aims, or policies are environmentally friendly”. ‘Greenwashing’ was coined by an environmentalist named Jay Westervelt in the mid 1980s. The term itself is a play on the term ‘whitewashing’. (To whitewash something is to make it seem cleaner or more pure than it really is. Its origins are quite literal: For hundreds of years, white wash, a cheap paint made from slaked lime, was used on a variety of surfaces to give a clean, uniform appearance. The white picket fence of the American dream? It was literally whitewashed.)
As the environmentalism movement has gained momentum, there is more and more pressure on companies to “go green”. But doing so is expensive! From a business standpoint, the cheaper alternative is to make minimal changes to its actual product or process, and instead to advertise, advertise, advertise! using buzzwords like “natural”, and “pure” and/or repackaging products to appear more eco-friendly. Obviously this method works or a majority of people, because greenwashing is everywhere.
How to not be fooled
Ava Anderson, of Ava Anderson Non-Toxic, has four excellent tips to avoid greenwashed beauty products, but her advice can be applied to nearly every product or service you might need. In a nutshell she advises:
1. Never succumb to pretty labels or alluring advertising.
2. Learn the names of harmful ingredients.
3. Don’t buy something just because a celebrity endorses it.
4. Know who owns your favorite brands.
And to her list we would add:
5. Shop local and support handmade/locally made products
The jist of her advice is simply to educate yourself so that you will be prepared to make informed consumer choices. As for our added tip, there are many benefits to shopping local and buying handmade. Do you know who made your lip balm and by what method it was made?–Burt’s Bees, for example. Do you know who owns Burt’s Bees (hint: not Burt)? Do you know where your clothing was made and if the person who made it was paid a fair wage? Do you know how many miles your produce traveled before you bought it? If you don’t know, it might be time to rethink your buying habits.
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