Deceiving you for profit
By Alexis Zygan, Staff Writer
Some companies market themselves as caring for the environment because it benefits their pocket.
As a school-age child, I watched the documentary An Inconvenient Truth, and Al Gore warned about the dangers of global warming. At that age, I disregarded the concepts as irrelevant and abstract. However, my values changed as I matured and learned about the adverse impact of factory farming and how fast fashion contributes to a growing waste problem. Documentaries such as Cowspiracy: The Sustainability Secret and The True Cost showcased tangible evidence. Climate anxiety became a prominent force that drove my understanding of how I can be an ethical consumer. I was not alone; 87 percent of millennials believe companies should address environmental issues. We are the largest adult generation, and our values shape how corporations advertise to us.
Greenwashing is a response to consumer values. A marketing strategy that implements public relations to appear environmentally friendly. Greenwashing manipulates consumers with buzzwords such as organic or natural. The term natural has no concrete definition in the marketing world, but earth tones for product packaging and making ethical claims help to avoid criticism from the public.
It is vital as a consumer who wants to purchase products that align with their values to know which companies care about the environment versus which one markets themselves as caring for the environment because it benefits their pocket.
The subliminal messaging of greenwashing is everywhere, from hygiene products to fast fashion. For example, the brand Love Beauty Planet appears sustainable; loving the planet is in their name, so you assume they must. With further research, a consumer will discover that Unilever owns them. A corporation that owns 400 brands and packages their products in plastic; that is a lot of plastic waste created from one corporation. Uniliver received scrutiny for disregarding human rights, animal testing, and releasing pollutants into the environment. Love Beauty Planet exemplifies the deceitful nature of greenwashing.
Another instance of greenwashing is H&M’s sustainable style clothing line. Fast fashion is environmentally irresponsible at its core due to factory production using toxic dyes that pollute the water supply, underpaying workers, and disregarding health standards. In 2013, a decrepit factory producing garments for H&M collapsed and killed 1,138 employees. Factory owners overlooked safety concerns that resulted in preventable deaths. These are only a few of the concerns regarding fast fashion. By creating a conscious clothing line H&M is avoiding addressing consumer concerns regarding the safety and wellbeing of their garment workers.
For consumers interested in buying more sustainably, here are some tips to avoid greenwashing; research is a crucial component of the process: see if a brand has a section on their website about sustainability. Now ensure that whatever they say is backed up with evidence. There are also certifications you can look out for on packaging: Leaping Bunny cruelty-free, Fair Trade, and 1 percent for the planet. “Good For You” is an encyclopedia for sustainable brands that share environmental impact, labour conditions, and animal welfare and gives a rating based on these factors.
Marketers purposely make identifying greenwashing tricky. Many consumers trust the brands they support. Also, sustainable products are often expensive because they pay their workers a fair wage. Ethical products are not cheap, and unfortunately, not everyone can afford to make green choices even if they care about the environment.