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The Dangers of Greenwashing and How to Avoid it

In the past few decades, the average consumer has become increasingly concerned about purchasing sustainable products. Companies have caught on to this and have started to launch environmentally conscious products and make promises to adopt more sustainable business practices. Unfortunately, many companies do not actually care about their environmental impact, but rather increasing profit. Because there is no legal definition of what “sustainable” means, any company can label a product as clean without actually putting in the effort to make a clean product. This practice of marketing products as eco-friendly without following through on claims has been dubbed “greenwashing”.

Greenwashing is a huge issue in the fashion industry. With fast fashion continuing to grow in popularity, an increasing amount of harm has been caused to the environment and the abused factory workers. One fashion company that has been accused of greenwashing is H&M. On their website they have a whole page describing their sustainability efforts and clothing items that have been deemed “conscious”. To a casual online shopper, H&M seems like a great company that offers a wide variety of clothes at fast-fashion prices while also being sustainable. But if you take a closer look this is not the case. Out of all of the clothing items H&M sells, a very small portion of them are actually in their “conscious” category. On top of that, there is no actual definition of what they mean by “conscious”. The sustainability section on their website is filled with vague claims to caring about the environment and empty promises to pay their factory workers a living wage. H&M is not the only company guilty of this type of greenwashing. Other fashion brands like ASOS, Zara, and Everlane have also faced greenwashing scandals over the past few years . Unfortunately, greenwashing is not a tactic limited to the fashion industry. Almost every aisle of your grocery store is full of products from brands with vague sustainability claims. Dawn dish soap has a huge label that says “Dawn helps save wildlife” next to an image of a duckling, meanwhile, it contains an active ingredient that kills marine wildlife. Clorox also has a line of cleaning products called Green Works that is supposed to be made with natural, non-toxic ingredients. However, if you take a look at the ingredients, the cleaners contain dangerous chemicals that include proven carcinogens. 

As a consumer, it is really frustrating to find out that a lot of your efforts to make sustainable choices are essentially for nothing. Companies would rather put their money into marketing their products as environmentally conscious than actually put the effort in to make change happen. However, there are ways to see through this marketing. If you are shopping online, look for information about their sustainability efforts. If it is just a page filled with vague claims and promises, they are probably greenwashing. Instead, look for specific data about things that the company has already done and is currently doing. For any company, you can look up their Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) risk rating. These scores are determined by independent companies and will tell you how sustainable companies really are. You can also lookup household products, like detergents and cleaners, on ewg.org to find out if they contain any chemicals that are harmful to human health or the environment.

The most important thing that you can do as a consumer is to hold companies accountable for their environmental and social actions. We have to stop letting companies get away with taking advantage of consumers who want to be environmentally conscious. The best thing we can do to fight back against greenwashing is doing research and educating ourselves to truly become more sustainable. 

Hope Tracey

Lafayette '24

biochemistry major at lafayette :)
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