The Definition of Greenwashing & Why it Matters
Today, we’re surrounded by companies who are going “green,” yet many people don’t know the definition of greenwashing. While it’s so important that more companies hop on the eco-friendly bandwagon, many are simply doing it for money – and offering up a less than genuine product to maximize profits.
So what is the definition of greenwashing and how does it affect us, the consumers? Let’s dig in.
The definition of greenwashing
According to Merriam Webster, the definition of greenwashing is “expressions of environmentalist concerns especially as a cover for products, policies, or activities.”
Cambridge University states the definition of greenwashing a bit more succinctly – “behavior or activities that make people believe that a company is doing more to protect the environment than it really is.”
Ultimately, greenwashing intentionally makes a product or company seem more environmentally friendly than it truly is. Greenwashing is what happens when capitalism gets in the way of doing the right thing.
What does greenwashing look like?
Greenwashing happens through images, labels, irrelevant claims, and vague claims without proof. Now that you know the definition of greenwashing, let’s look at some real-world examples.
South Korean beauty conglomerate Amorepacific is the perfect example of greenwashing. Their “Hello, I’m paper bottle” skincare packaging could not be further from the truth! Tragically, if you peel back the paper you will find a thin plastic bottle.
In 2018, people were waking up to the harm of single use plastics, especially straws. Starbucks released a straw-free lid in response. However, the new lid actually contained more plastic than the previous combination of straw and lid.
While the new lid addresses the issue of straws, it isn’t necessarily better for the environment since it’s causing even more plastic pollution than before.
The 3R Initiative
Nestle, Tetra Pak, Danone, and Veolia came together to create the 3R Initiative to address plastic pollution. The initiative introduces a credit system that promotes recycling. Companies that participate can purchase credits in recycling projects. These projects attempt to motivate people to recycle and go toward paying waste collectors better wages.
While these are great causes, they don’t really address the issue. Regardless of their efforts, we know that we don’t recycle 91% of plastic. Rather than actually working on lessening the plastic they create, these companies are simply trying to make themselves appear to care.
Hefty Recycling Bags
Hefty’s recycling bags claim to include a design specifically meant to hold recyclables. A May 2021 class-action lawsuit notes that this claim, which is written directly on their packaging, is false.
In reality, these bags would contaminate the recyclable waste. Recycling machinery cannot accept plastic bags, as they clog the machines. Not only would these bags contaminate products that could be recyclable, but Hefty is also ignoring the larger issue: all of their products create plastic waste.
It’s up to us to spot greenwashing and avoid supporting these companies. The way we spend our money determines future products – so let’s support companies who are doing the right thing.
If you want to dive deeper into this subject, be sure to take a read of our other post on plastic recycling symbols. By their very design, associated with the ecology movement, the arrows are a “greenwashing” tactic to imply that the product could be recycled.
Have you seen any greenwashing lately? Drop a comment below and share the wisdom!
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