We've been discussing sustainable product choices a lot during the 28 Day Challenge, but there is a HUGE elephant in the room - greenwashing. Greenwashing is a marketing trick used by many companies to portray themselves as environmentally friendly or to hide knowledge of the harm their products can cause. It's an intentional deception, and unfortunately, it's more common than ever.

Often this comes in the form of sustainable-looking packaging and colours, adding "bio" or "eco" to the name, or simply stating that a product is free of some or other harmful chemical, while it is jam-packed with others. An equally common trick is for companies, particularly large-scale manufacturers, to pretend that some token gesture offsets the harm they do. These tricks are everywhere and are designed to manipulate you into NOT investigating further. Fortunately, you're smarter than that!

What can I do?

There is no easy way to avoid greenwashing - you are going to have to look a little deeper into your product choices. Fortunately, we have some solid advice: 

  • Stick to brands and products you know and trust. Once you've taken the effort to ensure something you use is truly environmentally friendly, stick to it as much as possible. Reward sustainable brands!
  • Remember to make use of some of the easy-to-use tools we discussed in earlier pledges, like the Beat The Microbead app, to check the ingredients list of your products. Brands can deceive you by calling their shampoo "Earth Sister's Nature-Loving Bio-Eco-Shampoo with extra goji berries", but they can't legally leave microplastic off the ingredients list.
  • If it looks like plastic and feels like plastic, assume that it is plastic. Many plant-based plastics, or normal plastics with biodegradable additives, are marketed as being completely biodegradable or compostable, but the reality is that virtually none of them are.
  • Look out for vague claims. Things like "eco-friendly" don't mean much and are often used for greenwashing. 
  • Be on the lookout for plastic that has been "recycled" - often the fact that an item is made from previously recycled material is used to hide the fact that it is itself not recyclable. Check that label carefully.
  • Be wary of products that have won awards or received certifications from organisations you've never heard of, or awards for unrelated aspects of the product, such as "design."
  • Look at the reviews!

The short tip: BE A SKEPTIC!

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Credit: mike [CC BY-NC-SA 2.0]

Why does it matter?

Being informed consumers who scrutinise and interrogate the products and items that they purchase is vitally important as demand dictates what will be manufactured. So, if people are buying products that are truly more friendly to the environment, then more manufacturers will focus on these products and items. And the more people demand truly environmentally friendly products, the more manufacturers will be motivated to find ways of satisfying the demands of the consumers.

Myth-busting: "Natural is better"

An unfortunate consequence of greenwashing is that people have come to view "natural" products as somehow better than artificial or synthetic options. In truth, you always need to look deeper. Many "natural" products come from environmentally damaging processes, such as the terrible deforestation associated with palm oil farming or the enormous amount of fresh water used for cotton plants. On the other hand, some commonly despised things have undeniably had positive impacts - like single-use plastic, which has made all veins of the medical industry safer and more accessible.

It's a fuzzy picture, but there is a point to be made: What matters is the overall sustainability of a brand or industry and not just the way its final product is presented. Sorry, we know that's not an easy answer, and that's why it's so important to stay properly informed!

Remember, both natural and synthetic goods have long supply and production chains. Unfortunately, looking at a label doesn't tell you the true cost of a product, just the information the brand wants you to see. Credit: African Hope [CC BY-SA 4.0]

Who can I follow?

Have a look at Faithful to Nature’s online shop. They go to great lengths to ensure that the products that they sell actually are environmentally friendly and responsible. They have a strict ingredients policy that all products they sell have to adhere to. You can even apply a search filter which will pick out all the plastic-free products for you.

Credit: Greenwash Guerillas [CC BY-NC-ND 2.0]

Take the 28 Day Challenge! Make your Ocean Pledge!

This post is part of the #28DayOceanPledgeChallenge! You can find the other 27 posts and challenges on the Two Oceans Aquarium website, or by signing up for the Challenge newsletter below to receive one challenge a day for 28 days: