Watching for Greenwashing

Exploring the detrimental effects of Greenwashing and looking for solutions

Adithi Deeduvanu, Staff Writer

Like many others, I love to shop. I can spend hours scrolling through a website or walking through a store. However, in this day and age, one of the main things I look at when shopping is the sustainability of an item.  Recently,  I learned that many of the companies claiming to be sustainable are actually not. 

In 2019, H&M launched their “sustainable” clothing line, also known as the “Conscious Collection”, worldwide. Many consumers were thrilled, yet skeptical because of H&M’s history of involvement in fast fashion and other unsustainable practices. Their suspicions about H&M’s clothing line were later proven to be true when H&M was accused of greenwashing. 

 Greenwashing, also referred to as “Green sheen”, is a marketing tactic used by companies that provide false or misleading information about a company’s products and their sustainability. Not only is it unethical, but it is also illegal. Although they are aware of this, several companies have been accused of greenwashing, including Starbucks, Volkswagen, Coca-Cola,  Zara, Nestlé, and Ikea. 

In June 2021, a Changing Market’s Foundation report revealed that almost 60% of the claims made by H&M were “unsubstantiated or misleading.” The report also found that “H&M’s Conscious Collection not only uses more synthetics than its main collection, but also one in five items analyzed were found to be made from 100% fossil-fuel derived synthetic materials.” This means that the items from the “sustainable” Conscious collection are worse for the environment than the original H&M line. 

It is important to acknowledge and learn about greenwashing because companies are misleading their customers into thinking that they are helping the environment when in actuality they are doing the exact opposite. Greenwashing is also a diversion, leading us to think that we are doing better with sustainability and preventing us from making real and important changes. 

So what can we as consumers do to help? Well, to start, it’s crucial to acknowledge that you cannot completely avoid unsustainable products. What you can do is avoid companies that are greenwashing and lessen your consumption of the products created by these companies. It’s also important for consumers to not beat themselves up if they accidentally buy from a company that is greenwashing.

However, the best way to look out for greenwashing is by doing your research. Just by looking past advertisements and reading a little more in-depth into a company, you can learn a lot. If the brand is known globally, you will also be able to find articles about the sustainability of the company. 

Another way to avoid greenwashing is to watch out for common terms that companies often use when greenwashing. According to Clean Up News, these words are often,  “Eco-friendly, green, all-natural, earth-friendly, plant-derived, etc.” The site explains that words like natural do not correlate with sustainability since there is no certification/testing for them. 

A final way to steer clear of greenwashing is by looking for third-party certification. As Women’s Wear Daily says, “Brands and retailers need to proactively mention their certifications/labels when talking about their products whether online, in stores, in ads, or catalogs through social media and sustainability statements.” 

According to Earth911, 78% of Americans say that they believe companies should be sustainable. This number should motivate companies to do the right thing instead of misleading their consumers. It is time that we, the consumers, demand change by contacting companies, finding alternative products, and informing others. This way we can create a more sustainable and green future.