What is Greenwashing? And How Can You Spot It?

It’s easy to be overwhelmed by some of the environmental crises that our planet faces, from climate change to overflowing landfills. The good news is that, while the scale of these crises is massive, there are plenty of actions that consumers can take in order to preserve our natural world. One of the most notable of these steps is shopping conscientiously, opting for products and brands that use ecologically friendly methods and recycled (or recyclable) materials.

As you seek to buy from eco-friendly brands, it’s important to be alert for greenwashing, a shady advertising practice in which companies might exaggerate or simply fabricate their ecological bona fides. Knowing how to identify greenwashing is a must for any environmentally conscious shopper.

Greenwashing at a Glance

First and foremost, let’s define the term. Greenwashing basically refers to any advertising or marketing activity designed to make a product seem more sustainable, or more environmentally responsible, than it really is.

Greenwashing tactics are meant to take advantage of consumers who want to buy from eco-friendly brands, and they may overstate or distort the extent to which aproduct is natural, toxin-free, or otherwise wholesome.

The simple reality is that it's a lot easier and less expensive to market sustainability than to actually make a product sustainable. And that’s really what greenwashing is: A shortcut to earn the trust of customers who simply want to be environmentally responsible.

How to Identify Greenwashing

Greenwashing tactics are always evolving, which means it can be difficult to know what to look for. With that said, here are a few red flags that consumers should keep in mind.

Selective Disclosure

Sometimes companies tout their environmental bona fides while carefully omitting any mention of their more harmful practices. For example, a car company may claim to have a fuel-efficient battery, without ever mentioning all the pollution generated when they create said battery.


Another common form of greenwashing is when companies boast about purely symbolic action. Say an oil company has a spill, polluting the ocean and contaminating marine life. For them to donate soap in order to clean up the oil spill is purely performative; it’s not really evidence of an environmental commitment.


A few years ago, Starbucks announced its switch to straw-free lids, ostensibly to get rid of plastic straws. The problem? Their lid design actually used more plastic than the straws ever did.

Lack of Proof

Greenwashing often takes the form of vagueness. Any company can say that their product is 100 percent organic, but where’s the proof? Similarly, phrases like “vegan-approved” or “made with natural ingredients” don’t actually mean anything.

Visual Tricks

Sometimes, greenwashing happens at a subliminal level. Product packaging that’s covered with leaves and other “green” imagery may make you think it’s environmentally sourced, even when there is no specific claim being made.

Identifying Green Products

So how can you tell when products truly are made with environmental stewardship in mind? There are a number of promising signs that a company really does care about the planet. For example, it’s usually a good sign when:

●      Material and ingredient lists include only sustainable/organic ingredients.

●      Items are provided with minimal packaging.

●      Products are made without any toxins.

●      Products are made to be repaired or reused rather than discarded.

●      The company offers its own product recycling program.

Look for these things as you seek to be an environmentally responsible shopper… and with any questions about greenwashing or waste management, don’t hesitate to contact the WasteXperts team!

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