By: Anika Dewjee
In our increasingly “green” world, there has been a shift in consumer preferences towards more environmentally friendly goods and services. Firms that do not provide “green” offerings are punished and pressured into adopting cleaner practices. Since this adoption requires much time and money, many companies resort to publishing exaggerations or false claims about the environmental nature of their products and/or brands to increase their equity or image, also known as greenwashing. Companies often mislead with words like “100% organic”, “all-natural”, “certified”, etc., visuals or environmental images like leaves, animals, green packaging, etc., or vague green claims. Carly Hartwig, a full-time educator with a part-time passion for researching all things non-toxic, says that “the labeling industry is hugely unregulated” so companies are easily able to make these false claims without facing repercussions.
This trend is not confined to a niche market or group of companies, as it has expanded to cover “green energy, food, tourism, packaging, fashion, architecture, government, and green buildings to cater to consumers’ increasing eco-friendly desires” (Nguyen, 2019). Even multi-billion dollar companies like Volkswagen, Coca-Cola, Zara, Starbucks, and major fashion companies are all guilty of greenwashing. Many engage in this marketing practice to increase revenue, as “66% of consumers would spend more on a product if it comes from a sustainable brand” (Business News Daily, 2022).
Ellana Kordon, a high school student, says that her family makes sure to purchase products that “are environmentally-friendly and have visible green claims on their packaging”. While this seems like the way to support the environment, it is actually the greenwashing trap. To avoid playing victim to this vicious tactic, Hartwig recommends we should “ignore the front label completely and turn over the bottle to actually look at the ingredients,” and use Environmental Working Group and Clearya to show you certified evidence of ingredients.
While the shift of consumer preference is necessary and undeniably positive for the long run, its immediate repercussions bear harm on our environment, as companies are deceiving customers and diminishing the credibility of certified green brands through greenwashing.