Making an informed and environmentally conscious decision about something you buy is always challenging. However, with the rise of "green" marketing and labeling, it can be challenging to near impossible to distinguish between truly ethical products and those that are simply “greenwashed.”
Greenwashing is a deceptive marketing tactic companies use to make false or exaggerated claims about the environmental benefits of their products or services. It can be seen across a range of industries, from fashion and beauty, to food and household goods.
You might be wondering: What is greenwashing? How can I be sure my ring is ethically sourced? Where does my gold really come from? Don’t worry, we have all the answers for you!
What is greenwashing?
Greenwashing is when companies use terms like “natural,” “ethical,” “green,” or “eco-friendly” to entice and appeal to ethically conscious consumers. These terms alone aren’t inherently greenwashing, but when they cannot be backed up by tangible data and traceability they are meaningless at best and deceptive at worst. This can include the use of misleading labels, certifications, or advertising which creates a false sense of environmental or social responsibility.
Why is it important to understand greenwashing?
As an ethical consumer, it’s critical to understand the concept greenwashing as a way to ensure that you’re purchasing products that actually align with your values. By being able to recognize misleading or exaggerated environmental claims, you’re better equipped to avoid products that may be harmful to you or to the planet (or both). When consumers make informed decisions about product purchases collectively, companies are then pushed to be more transparent and accountable, ideally leading to a more sustainable and honest marketplace.
What are some examples of greenwashing?
Greenwashing comes in many forms, and is present all kinds of industries. To help you identify it, here are three examples of how greenwashing might look in the real world:
1) In the Fashion industry - lack of transparency:
When a fashion brand claims that their clothing is made from “sustainable materials,” they should also disclose specific details about environmental impact of their production process and the working conditions of their laborers. If the brand doesn’t collect this data from their supply chain and communicate it in an honest way, then their sustainability claims can create a false sense of environmental and social responsibility. This misleading marketing then causes consumers to purchase products thinking they are supporting their own values when in reality they are not.
2) In the food/beverage industry - omission of relevant information:
If a company produces bottled water and labels it as “natural” or “eco-friendly,” they are actively using labeling their product seem like a sustainable choice overall. However, these claims are effectively greenwashing if the company omits other important details about the impact of their product, like the use of plastic packaging or sourcing water from depleted local resources. This misleading labeling can deceive consumers into thinking that they are making a sustainable choice, when in fact, the product may be contributing to environmental harm.
3) In the jewelry industry - failure to define important terms:
A jewelry brand may market their products as "ethical" or "sustainable" by saying that they use diamonds from conflict-free sources. However, for the consumer to be able to fully understand the environmental and social impact of the jewelry, the company must also clearly explain their definition of the term “conflict-free.” While some definitions of “conflict-free” could paint a true picture of the product’s impact, other definitions might just be vague blanket terms. Without the jewelry company disclosing more about their own sourcing standards, consumers are unable to determine whether the production of the jewelry contributed to illegal mining practices or unsafe working conditions for miners.
What are some ways to avoid being tricked by greenwashed claims?
To purchase ethical products confidently, it’s essential to ask questions. Don’t rely on buzzwords like "natural," "organic," or "eco-friendly." Instead, look for third-party certifications or labels to verify a product’s responsibility claims. If you can’t find that information, ask the company directly and make sure they give a direct, relevant answer.
When evaluating the true impact of a purchase, don’t just focus on the product itself, but also take a minute to consider its entire lifecycle - from sourcing, to production, usage, and disposal. The most ethical products will be sourced through transparent supply chains, and exist in a regenerative, sustainable closed loop.
So, let's continue to ask questions, do our research, and make purchasing decisions that reflect our commitment to a healthier planet!
At W.R. Metalarts, ethical and transparent sourcing is at the core of everything we do. We feel we have a professional duty to understand where our materials are coming from, to educate our clients about design choices that uphold these values, and to push our industry to have more integrity and transparency by voting with our dollars (and yours by extension!).
To learn more about our values and policies, check out our About page. Also take a peek at these relevant blog posts from our Library: