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What is Greenwashing? Green lies, green myths, green washers…beware!

Greenwashing: You are at risk. The Green Mama helps you avoid falling prey to greenwashers.

What is greenwashing? Greenwashing is using the language of “green” to make a product, person, company–or whatever–appear healthier for people and planet than it really is.

For example, you walk into the grocery aisle to find a baby shampoo that isn’t going to fill your baby with hormone-bending and toxic chemicals and that isn’t going to kill a fish somewhere. You look at bottles labelled: “Hypoallergenic!” “No Tears” “Dermatologist-tested” “Gentle” “Natural” “With Real Lavender” “Unscented” and, even, “Safe for Baby!”

Lucky you, there it is: a bottle with ALL of these on the label. It’s $2 more than the one next to it, but it’s worth it right? Anything not to kill your kid and that fish.

When you get home, you look up your new purchase on the EWG Skindeep Database, expecting to find out what a great purchase you have acquired. Only to find out that it is loaded with those very hormone-bending, toxic chemicals you were trying to avoid.

How could this happen? You read the label! It said all those nice things. They lied!

No, they greenwashed. It isn’t exactly lying because all those labels above are basically meaningless, not backed by Third-Party agencies that regulate what they mean. In other words, they misled you into thinking their product was green, they charged you more, yet they gave you the same old formula known to mess things up. (To learn more about how to read labels and avoid being greenwashed in the beauty care aisle read this Green Mama article.)

The same basic thing as above can happen with businesses and even people. How?

  • Sometimes they use vague, green language to pretend they are greener than they are, like above.
  • Sometimes they misuse science to pretend their ecological footprint is better than it is or that a certain activity is greener than it is. Such as when Airbus said that “Flying in an A380, you’re personally creating less CO2 than you would do driving the average family car.” They didn’t equally compare distances (or anything else). Flying uses MUCH more carbon than driving, I’ve read that a long distance flight (like across the ocean and back) is the equivalent, per person, of driving a car for an entire year.
  • Sometimes they sponsor green events, causes, things to help improve their reputation (Big Tobacco does a lot of this: we can’t be THAT bad we sponsored a home for abused children or a big green festival or whatever)
  • Sometimes they produce one really great product or thing that is truly green and hope that people won’t notice that their other products aren’t as green. (Clorox hoping that bleach will seem green by developing a “Green Works” line.)
  • Sometimes they pretend to be FOR green causes or green STUFF,  but then aren’t really or aren’t consistently. Such as GM (who makes the Volt) publicly denying Climate Change (via their VP)
  • Sometimes they are companies doing something for the environment (usually it’s like recycling) and confusing that with actually being green (which means they have to be healthy for the environment and for humans and not commit any major BADs.) Lots of toy companies do this: it’s vinyl but the package is recyclable…
  • Or, sometimes, they are great companies that go bad, either accidentally or when they change ownership or sell. Usually, this shows up with their products slowly getting full of more dangerous chemicals. Brands that I have loved in the past, but stopped using include: Aveda, Burt’s Bees, and Method.

Greenwashing is BIG business.  Green accounts for some of the fastest growing sectors, in food, in building, and in many other products. Researchers suggest that 95% of companies are doing some greenwashing. Yikes. Their are entire organizations dedicated to outing green washers and protecting consumers. One site I like is

By Manda Aufochs Gillespie, The Green Mama.

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