Greenwashing: are you being misled by a label?

Greenwashing is one of the bigger tragedies of the modern era. Many companies work hard to make a better world for sustainable business into the future. Many more, however, exploit trends to market to people’s sensitivities of feeling good about being green with products that really aren’t all that green.

How does a consumer know that a product they are purchasing is good for the environment?  Because the label says so?  Here are a few common “green” movements of the new century, and their own associated greenwashing risks.  

Organic farms

usda-organic-label-in-black-537x442Organic farming is heralded as a way of preventing climate change, yet organic farms actually don’t cancel out many greenhouse emissions.

For organic farming to help capture carbon and lower greenhouse gasses it depends on limited fertilizers and more food production per acre. In other words, smaller farms with tilled soil and seasonally rotated crops are practices that will benefit the climate. However, USDA rules favor profitability and shortcut critical practices of true organic farming. To make money, farms need to be big, which makes compact farming less realistic. Plus, large farms need large machinery, which negate the positive impact of organic farming.

Don’t just accept a product as being superior simply because the label says “organic”. There is a lot to what constitutes organic and what federal regulators accept as organic.

Electric cars

Electric cars are championed as great saviors because they do not use gasoline. However, they still create carbon emissions in other ways, particularly when the electricity comes from a coal-fired power plant. Another consideration is that electric cars need to be light, which requires the use of rare metals and lithium batteries. These metals, which are also present in solar panels, need to be mined. The mining process itself destroys far more land than metals excavated and comes with a serious hidden emission cost.

All told, the sum total of an electric car can be more environmentally friendly than a gas powered car as a long-term investment. The car needs to last about 15 years and then be recycled to be of maximum benefit. The important consideration the Wired article came to was that “we need to invest in the science of understanding the impacts of the products that we’re making.”  This is to say, for consumers, it’s not as simple as buying green, it requires understanding and living green on a day-to-day basis.  

Paperless statements and email

Everything has a price.

Everything has a price.

For the past decade, consumers have been inundated with requests to go paperless. The idea has always promoted to save trees. However, this movement has not been as noble as it seems with the primary benefit being to save company costs. Saving trees is only one aspect to consider and may not even be that much worth considering. According to Two Sides North America, the paper statement push has been unsubstantiated and misleading. Companies have jumped on the paperless bandwagon without considering the footprint of their digital infrastructure. And that footprint is extreme. Spam messages alone have been noted to have an annual carbon emission cost equivalent to three million passenger cars.

Where do we go from here?

It's time to choose.

It’s time to choose.

These are the three biggest ways marketing campaigns capitalize off green movements. They make consumers feel better about themselves because that drives sales. And by touting something new and cutting edge, the product can be priced accordingly. Being green in life is not the same as buying expensive food, expensive cars, expensive electronics and so on. It takes a dedication and true consideration.

The answer to the question of how a person knows they are purchasing a green product lies not in the product, but the person’s habits and lifestyle. gives a beginner primer on how to see thru greenwashing marketing campaigns and how to tell if a company walks the green walk. For a consumer, here are five simple steps to be greener and create a lower carbon footprint that are not expensive or arduous and can actually even save money. These ideas help simplify the way a consumer approaches the world. It just takes practice and commitment.

Being green is a way of life and the products a person uses work harmoniously with their way of life. As with any product, you can’t let an advertiser dictate the conditions of your lifestyle. The key is to rise above the greenwashing; you must choose the better lifestyle and purchase from businesses that are congruent with that.