Green Washing: The Devil is in the Details

It has started to seem like there has been a shift in people and business over the last few years. There seems to be an increasing consideration for all things related to the environment and I think a lot of the steps being taken are incredibly valuable. However, it still appears that despite all of these actions being taken, the destruction and devastation to our environment seems to continue. Some of this might just be due to the scale of the problem. There is a lot of people and a lot of work to be done to get us to a truly sustainable point.

But I think there is another reason that some of these efforts have seemed to be unsuccessful. I think it’s because many of these efforts aren’t genuine and in many cases are just for show. But why? I believe that some of the lack of progress can be blamed on Green Washing.

Green Washing can be defined as “spending more time and money claiming to be ‘green’ through advertising and marketing rather than actually implementing business practices that minimize environmental impact.” This is something that is running rampant in industry. With so many people focused on environmental issues, companies know they have to make changes to satisfy their customers. However, many of the claims coming out aren’t genuine.

Photo by veeterzy on Unsplash

The diesel scandal with Volkswagen that happened several years ago is a perfect example. The company was spending money advertising their diesel vehicles as environmental, all while they were also spending money to hide their true large amounts of exhaust from the EPA. This video on how Fiji water brands itself is another great example of how Green Washing can be done.

This has to stop, but how? I don’t want to discredit myself, but my previous blog post on the power of people to drive environmental change is really hard to do when we aren’t informed as consumers. I have and will continue to preach the value in education. We can’t fight this misinformation if we don’t work to be informed. And it will be exactly that: hard work.

Wondering where to start? Well Terra Choice created a list of six sins of Green Washing in 2007, which will help you get a broader understanding. Some of the things they warn about are vagueness, a lack of proof, and hidden tradeoffs that don’t get mentioned. Regardless of the source of this misinformation, the best place to start is to ask questions, and lots of them. You will need to do the research to align yourself with brands that make trustworthy claims whenever possible. Don’t be fooled by green packages, brown paper bags, or glass bottles. As we have talked about before, look at the science and look for data such as life cycle analysis to know if the product you are considering is actually “green”.

Photo by Franki Chamaki on Unsplash

As someone working within the packaging industry, I will admit that sometimes these instances of Green Washing aren’t malicious. In fact, many times it’s led by individuals like myself simply trying to make things better. I have heard stories that some of the original “bio-degradable” packages didn’t actually degrade. They actually just broke into smaller and smaller pieces, often called micro-plastics, which is far from what they had intended. Micro-plastics themselves are a complicated subject because the data on the potential harmful impact isn’t clear, but there are speculations on the risks in humans.

All of this is just to say that this is a complicated issue. We have people intentionally misleading for profit, as well as positive efforts causing issues. Despite this, you don’t need to go on this journey alone. Many others and myself are working to learn and educate as much as possible about these issues. Keep asking questions and never stop learning. Have a product you aren’t sure of when it comes to the validity of their claims? Let me know by posting it in the comments and we can explore it together!

Author: Miles Quinn

Miles has been in the packaging field for over 5 years after studying packaging science at Clemson University. He moved to Reno, NV after graduating and has fallen in love with the area. He has a passion for environmentalism and is hoping to make an impact both locally and on a large scale

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