Greenwashing – What it Means and How to Avoid it

October 14, 2019

Greenwashing – What it Means and How to Avoid it

When is a ‘green’ brand not an eco-friendly brand? When it’s guilty of greenwashing.

We all know you can’t trust everything you’re told about what you’re sold, but there are many ploys that companies use to imply they’re greener or more sustainable than they really are. Words like ‘natural’, ‘organic’ and ‘pure’ are strewn around liberally in lifestyle stores and bedding brochures, but they may not mean what you think…

What is Greenwashing?

The term ‘greenwashing’ – a twist on whitewash – was first coined by campaigners in the 1980s to describe the way big companies covered up dreadful environmental footprints with dubious claims and distracting advertising. Greenwashing tactics have since trickled their way into the marketing of everything, from food and beverages to products and pastimes.

Greenwashing can range from an innocuous turn of phrase in a press release, to downright deceptive misdirection or misleading language.

So how can you tell if you’re buying a truly green product rather than just buying into a well-spun yarn, the hard sell or ‘green sheen’ of a slick ad campaign?

There are, unfortunately, countless examples of greenwashing, but here are some tips and red flags to look out for:

Greenwashing Examples

Often cited as the first and worst example of greenwashing, Chevron’s People Do campaign promoted its ‘environmental programs’ in a series of million-dollar TV adverts. However, most of them were mandatory obligations, funded by an amount that was miniscule compared to the oil company’s marketing spend. At the same time, Chevron was violating the clean water act, the clean air act, and spilling oil in nature refuges.

Tip 1: Don’t believe the hype.  Big business and empty gestures are often bedfellows. If a company is making grand claims in one area, check out its track record in others. Efforts to reduce environmental impact should be proportional to the footprint – so just using ‘recyclable’ packaging or renewable energy is not enough if the core product is unsustainable.

Be wary of brands that launch an eco-friendly collection or ethical initiative when the majority of the company’s output is not – a report published by the WWF in 2016 found that the companies using the most cotton globally were among the worst for delivering on cotton sustainability.

As sustainability and responsible choices become more of a priority for consumers, corporations have been quick to exploit public perception of their ethical goal-setting, and use fluffy language or green imagery to lend their brand credibility.

‘Natural’ fibers? Well, technically, cotton plants are natural and therefore ‘organic’ – but the majority of conventional cotton crops are GMO, water intensive, and doused with harmful pesticides and synthetic fertilizers that persist in the environment and compromise biodiversity. On top of that, a sheet or pillowcase made from ‘pure’ organic cotton fibers may still have been processed with poisonous chemicals, and sewn and finished in a factory that is unsafe, employs children or exploits its labor force.

Tip 2: Look for proof.  Make sure claims are backed up by facts that are publicly shared and easy to find. Transparency is fundamental – so if you’re not sure where something comes from or how it was made, ask. Companies that really care will be delighted to talk you through their supply chain.

Green labels are also a potential minefield, as some have a far lower threshold for compliance than others, duping the consumer into believing they’re making a responsible choice without providing any evidence.

Fair Trade Certified logo

Homeware companies may tell you their bedding is made with organic cotton, but this could mean as much as 30% of the finished product is man-made – or that it has been processed with countless harmful chemicals, after the cotton has left the farm.

Likewise, bedding brands that call themselves eco-friendly because they carry the Oeko-Tex Standard 100 or Made in Green label aren’t necessarily as wholesome as you might think.

Sure, Oeko-Tex certification guarantees that the end product has been tested for harmful substances, and is safe for use from the point of purchase. But since it applies only to the manufacturing process of a textile item – be it organic cotton sheets or synthetic sportswear – it does not factor in the jaw-dropping amount of water, pesticides, fertilizers, GMO seeds or chemicals used in conventional cotton farming or in the creation of any other raw materials.

GOTS certification logo

Tip 3: check for trusted logos.The only way to know for sure that a company is practicing what it preaches is if it has been certified by a globally recognized organization that you trust, such as Fair Trade USA or the Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS).

At Square Flower, we think good design should start with good intentions. And that’s why every single one of our products is Fair Trade Certified and GOTS certified organic.

We believe in making things better – for people, for the planet, and for you – and we’re proud of our (properly) organic cotton bedding. We hope you will be, too.