3 Ways to Spot a Greenwasher (and why you should even care)

Photo by Michelle Bonkosky on Unsplash

It just happened again.

This drives me crazy.

I called a beverage company. A new-to-me brand that boasts itself as 100% organic, non-GMO, free of artificial blah blah blah, all the buzz words of today’s new movement to grab the wallets of those of us who care what we put into our bodies.

Immediately I was suspicious, because, not to be negative, but if something sounds too good to be true, it just might be. At the same time, I couldn’t help but be hopeful! Maybe this time….

So I send them a message. Of course, it takes me a while to figure out how to do that. Because, you see, there was no way to do it on their website. No e-mail, no phone number, nothing. I have to track them down on their social media page. And then after asking them for their ingredients list, I get the ever-popular, “we don’t have a list of ingredients”. What??? You don’t know what is in your products? Wow, that seems irresponsible.

Of course, when I asked for clarification, I got the truth: “we don’t have a list of ingredients available to the public”.

Deep breath, Meredith. No need for profanity.

But seriously — THIS DRIVES ME CRAZY. And while I’d like to go out and share the name of this company, that doesn’t always go over well in the world of the Internet. So, instead, I will put my irritation into a force for good, and give you a few tips for how to avoid being greenwashed.

{Greenwashing is a term used to describe marketing practices that portray a product or a company as “healthy, safe, natural, environmentally-friendly”, etc., when in fact it’s a lie.}

1. They go overboard when describing themselves. Often they use every word in the greenwashing playbook — AT THE SAME TIME! — on their label and in their marketing, including but not limited to: Natural, pure, safe, healthy, clean, organic, non-GMO, 5-free, 7-free, 9-free, insert number here-free. Here’s the thing. If a product is truly clean, its ingredients list will speak for itself. They don’t need to have a title, tagline, and mission statement all over the front of their package that is trying to convince you how clean they are.

2. There’s no ingredient label on the product itself. It’s a beautiful package, or it’s in a beautiful display, and the colors are lovely and the fonts are outstanding, and you’ve turned that package over 16 times in your hands, and you have come to the realization that there is ABSOLUTELY no ingredient label whatsoever.

A close cousin to this infraction is that there’s a label with loosely defined items in it that aren’t real ingredients. Things like, “flavors”, “essences”, and “spices” do not grow on trees nor will you find them walking around or lying in their natural environment.

3. You contact the company and they tell you that they won’t (which they sometimes disguise as “don’t” or “can’t”) disclose this information to you. You may have guessed this one, given my little story at the beginning. The truth is that with science being what it is, these days anyone can take a product to a lab and get it tested in order to find out what’s in it. Therefore, there’s absolutely NO REASON to hide ingredients, unless of course, you have a reason to hide ingredients. Which is exactly what those companies are doing.

Why do you care?

Well, in keeping with the numbered list format that I started, how about I offer you three reasons:

1. You are wasting your money. These greenwashers almost always charge more for their supposedly wonderful products. This is sad. Especially because it is true that quality ingredients that aren’t harmful ARE more expensive than crappy ones that hurt us and our health. So the greenwashers are using that to their advantage.

2. You think you are safe and in fact you might be harmed. It’s one thing if you buy a product with the full understanding of what is in it. Very few of us manage to avoid all ingredients that are not so good for us on a daily basis, which is okay — no one is perfect and we do what we can. However, if you’re buying a product with the thought that it’s safe, and it’s not — well that’s another thing entirely, and most people don’t like to be fooled.

3. If we keeping buying their crap, that will just encourage them. Kind of like how Aunt Martha always told us that if we kept laughing at Uncle Joe’s jokes, he’d just keep telling them. As long as these greenwashers continue to get our money, their behavior will continue. And as many companies scrambling to make safer alternatives to their food, beverage, personal care, and home cleaning product lines already know, we CAN make a difference by where we spend our money.

I hope that this is helpful for you. If I can save even just ONE PERSON from being greenwashed the next time they are faced with a product, I will be happy.

Want to learn more about what to avoid and how to find safer alternatives? Check out my new online course, “What’s In Your Products”.

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