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What Is Greenwashing and How To Stop It

“As consumers, we have so much power to change the world by just being careful in what we buy”. These wise words were spoken by Emma Watson and we couldn’t agree more.

According to the Nielsen Global Sustainability Report, “73% of global consumers say they would definitely or probably change their consumption habits to reduce their impact on the environment”.
Alongside this, “almost half (41%) of consumers from around the world say that they’re highly willing to pay more for products that contain all-natural or organic ingredients”. As consumers, we are becoming more invested in how goods are made and where they are coming from. On a daily basis, we can vote with our feet and wallets to choose products that are better for the environment and for our health.

However, for us to make the best purchasing decisions and use this power wisely, it’s essential that we don’t fall into the greenwashing trap.⁠ Unfortunately, it’s often an easy one to fall into! The branding of certain companies is sometimes far greener than their actual processes and policies - read on to discover what greenwashing is as well as what you can do to avoid being greenwashed.

Greenwashing Hand & Plant Image

What is Greenwashing and how it works

According to Oxford Languages, ‘Greenwashing’ or ‘Greensheen’ is by definition “the disinformation disseminated by an organisation so as to present an environmentally responsible public image”. Greenwashing ranges from making claims that are simply false to lacking scientific proof or using irrelevant arguments.

A report by Terra Choice identified some greenwashing patterns, recognising them as the ‘Six Sins of Greenwashing’. It’s not always an easy task to spot greenwashing: some terms such as ‘conscious’ or ‘responsible’ don’t actually hold any legal standing. It’s preferable to seek out tangible information and figures about where materials are sourced or what type of ingredients are used in a product.

Six sins of greenwashing infographic

For example, a fashion brand doing a one-off sustainable collection is one step in the right direction because it helps raise awareness about why sustainability matters, but it does not fundamentally address the underlying problem of the vast quantity of clothing still being produced in unsustainable ways. If a so-called ‘ethical’ range only represents a tiny part of the overall business but gets marketed with exaggerated claims, it is misleading and considered as greenwashing.

Another example would be a company selling bottled water and marketing their products as eco-friendly because they are “made with 30% less plastic”. Firstly, this claim isn’t specific as it doesn’t give information about the final composition: it can be technically true, but 30% less than what? Most importantly, plastic bottles and bottle caps rank as the third and fourth most collected plastic rubbish items in the Ocean Conservancy’s annual beach cleanups report, so reducing the percentage of plastic by itself doesn’t make them eco-friendly.

On the other hand, some brands are genuinely making efforts to reduce their environmental impact - and those tend to stick to facts and figures instead of simply claiming to be green. Transparency should not be confused with sustainability but it is safe to say that sustainability needs transparency. Patagonia is often held as the gold standard and by reading their ‘Footprint’ page it’s clear to see why. As a company, they are honest and transparent in communicating about what they do right, but also understanding their potential shortcomings and where they can do better. Honest and open, without the sugar coating.

Greenwashing in the dry cleaning industry

The dry cleaning industry is known for being very toxic and rather set in its old-fashioned ways and over the last few years, we have seen lots of professional cleaners claiming to do ‘greener cleaning’. As a business that was founded to inspire change in our industry, this sounds great. Unfortunately, this doesn't always guarantee that companies are substantiating their claims, so here are a few things you can fact check to ensure your clothes are sustainably cared for – for real.⁠

Be careful with dry cleaners who advertise as “green”, “organic” or “environmentally friendly” without providing details about their process on their website. As those terms are not defined and enforced by law, some dry cleaners will advertise as all of these things when they are anything but safe for the Earth.

⁠Additionally, the term “organic” is sometimes used in a misleading way because all cleaners (the exception being silicone) are, technically speaking, organic - which simply means that the cleaning solvent they use contains carbon. This includes PERC which is a toxic solvent that is carcinogenic and has already been banned from many countries including France, Denmark, and many states in the US.

To sum up, the best way to check if a dry cleaning company uses an eco-friendly process is to search or ask for more details about their cleaning process. Cleaners who are actually using eco technologies will most likely be specific about the beneficial attributes of their process. So a lack of information on this side should look suspicious and call for further checks.

Nothing is black or white, of course, since a lot of factors need to be taken into account, from the health effects to workers and consumers to the energy and water used in the process. Here at BLANC, we are using a combination of wet cleaning and liquid CO2 cleaning for their low environmental impact and believe that it is the most sustainable alternative at the moment. We acknowledge however, that this is a journey and we are constantly conducting research, looking for innovations and trying to improve our processes to challenge the status quo.


What YOU can do to avoid being Greenwashed

1. Look for official certifications

Official certifications such as B Corp are a good and trusted way to know more about companies’ sustainability credentials: certified B Corporations are legally required to consider the impact of their decisions on their workers, customers, suppliers, community, and the environment. The certification is assessed by the not-for-profit 'B Lab' and given to for-profit organisations who achieve at least a minimum score against a set of social and environmental standards.

Additional certifications can be used for more specific purposes, such as “Not tested on animals”, “Compostable” or “Fair trade” and act as a guarantee that a business is substantiating their claims - you can take a look at the Eco Index for a list of certifications to look out for.

2. Check your facts with the Apps

One of the quickest and easiest ways to avoid greenwashing is probably in your hand right now. Download one the following apps on your phone - they provide instant, easy to consume information that cuts through the marketing jargon.

Good on You was created to “give you the power to check brand ratings while you shop, discover ethical and sustainable fashion labels from around the world”. Good on You focuses on the fashion sector and does the hard work for you - simply tap in a brand and the app provides a rating based on their sustainability and environmental practices. You can also take a look at Zerrin for a good ethical brand directory.

When it comes to food and cosmetics, Yuka is a great app to get clear information on the health impact of the products you consume. Simply scan the barcode and the app evaluates the quality of the product in a handy, easy to read visual breakdown, while also providing better alternatives to products that rate poorly. A great tool to help you make simple swaps for a big impact.

yuka app greenwashing

 3. Follow inspiring eco-activists

There are so many great resources out there: you barely have to look further than Instagram for great, informative content surrounding greenwashing and sustainability practices.

Venetia La Manna is a great source for fun, honest content about greenwashing within the apparel industry. She shares lots of actionable tips for people to live in a more eco-friendly way, directly calls out fashion brands guilty of greenwashing and cuts through the jargon. A must follow for fashion lovers who are aiming to be more conscious.

Another account we recommend is Urban Meisters: they like to call it how they see it and break down the greenwashing behind marketing campaigns within multiple industries, without being afraid to name names. For more inspiration to eco-up you Instagram feed, take a look at our favourite ethical influencers to follow.

4. Speak up!

Lastly, don’t underestimate your power to tell companies what you want: it is easy for individuals to feel small in comparison to companies, but the truth is that most of them actually care a lot about what you have to say. At BLANC, our customers are the ones who provide the single most important feedback we get - and the one we listen to the most.

Whether you decide to take part in the Fashion Revolution and ask brands “Who made my clothes?” and “What’s in my clothes?” or to start small and ask your local coffee shop about their products’ origin, it DOES make a difference. By creating a demand for better sustainability practices, holding brands accountable and changing our consumer behaviour, we can start to create meaningful change.

So, it’s pretty clear that some industries and brands need to clean up their act a little (excuse the pun). However, we can rejoice that we are moving in the right direction.

If we do our best to exercise our purchasing power, stay informed and hold brands accountable, we can really help create the change we want to see.

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