Greenwashing Isn't So Green

It’s pretty easy to feel helpless these days when it comes to climate change. The IPCC put out a report warning that global temperature cannot exceed 2° Celsius without irreversible damage to our planet, and according to NASA, we’re already at 1.8°C. Ideally, our government would recognize this huge problem and corporations would be willing to put their fossil fuel profits into keeping our planet from self-destructing, but ya know. Let’s get this bread, I guess. And while companies like ExxonMobil continue to dump carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, smaller companies also have a hand in climate change, especially when it comes to issues like deforestation, landfill usage, and ocean pollution. Fortunately, many companies recognize this and have come out with “green” products. Unfortunately, it’s hard to tell if these products are really any better for the planet in the long run. Thus, a market trend of “greenwashing” is on the rise.


Similar to how “whitewashing” means to hide unflattering facts, “greenwashing” happens when a company falsely advertises products as environmentally friendly, or “green”, in order to appeal to consumers. Companies can get away with greenwashing because common words used to signify green products, such as “biodegradable” and “natural”, have little to no regulation in the United States. Some companies technically have biodegradable items, but these products either only partially degrade or need a special facility to break down the products. However, most consumers are not aware or do not want to deal with the inconvenience of special recycling instructions, and end up throwing these products in the trash, where they do not degrade at all.


Take the company Boxed Water, for example. They claim that their boxed water is better for the environment (as opposed to plastic water bottles), and this is true (to a point), but many boxed water containers end up in landfills if the local recycling plants are unable to recycle the compounds of the boxes. Besides, can a company that sells single-use products really make a claim to being environmentally friendly? Especially a company that sells single-use containers for water, a substance that is incredibly easy to bottle yourself with a reusable bottle (assuming you have clean access to water). It’s not rocket science, people.


Not only is greenwashing a sneaky way for companies to operate, but it also provides consumers with a false sense of security that they are helping the environment. Plus, smaller companies that are actually environmentally-friendly don’t get the attention they deserve for their work. I also particularly don’t like greenwashing because I believe it is sending out a message that all consumers need to do is simply switch their products to something more “green”. I understand that not everyone has the ability to switch to more environmentally friendly options when the most easily accessible products are cheap and convenient, but the consumer demand for more accessible, truly environmentally friendly options will eventually lead to more options with fairer pricing.  


However, for those of us who do have the privilege of being picky with what we consume, it’s time to get pickier. Remember what I said about our rising global temperature? If we reach 2°C, about 99% of the coral reef will die. The Arctic Ocean will become ice-free. Many ecosystems will be forever changed, no longer supporting the species (and people) that live there. While it’s true that corporate practices are extremely wasteful, these corporations were built to support our wasteful lifestyles. A big part of the energy we use is for producing, transporting, and breaking down all these products we consume.

So, a lot of companies have bought into greenwashing. What can we do to make sure we are buying truly environmentally friendly products? One great way is to dedicate a little bit of time to research companies that you buy from frequently, such as household cleaners or clothing brands. If a company is not transparent about their plans and strategies for being friendlier to the environment, there’s a chance that they are mostly making these claims for the publicity. In my opinion, brands that I trust are typically brands that have started out with caring for the Earth in mind, which usually means buying from smaller companies.

Overall, the most important thing to remember is that everything creates emissions. I am extremely lucky that I was born in America, but it also means that I am one of the most wasteful citizens on the planet. That being said, there are so many things I use in my daily life that I don’t need. I don’t need a new outfit for every occasion. I don’t need brand new folders and notebooks for every semester. I don’t need to drive somewhere that only takes 10 minutes to talk. And I certainly don’t need a single-use, plastic (or boxed) water bottle to carry around with me.