Cowley: Boycott Greenwashing

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(Photo via Pixabay)

By Elle Cowley, Opinion Writer, Audio Producer

 

The public is more environmentally conscious than ever before. According to data collected by Gallup, four out of 10 Americans today worry “a great deal” about the environment. As a result, more people are trying to live sustainably. Reusable cups, bags and utensils continue to become more and more common.

Of course, companies are quick to capitalize on the growing popularity of sustainable practices. Anytime I go shopping, I see an increasing number of products promoted as sustainable and eco-friendly. But in reality, these products aren’t any better than their normal counterparts. 

By greenwashing products to make them seem more environmentally friendly, brands deceive consumers and avoid taking accountability for their unsustainable practices. We as consumers need to take action and boycott these products.

The Industries at Fault

Greenwashing occurs when a company markets a product as being better for the environment than it actually is. While greenwashing has existed since people began having concerns about the environment, the practice has ramped up in recent years. Gas companies are notorious for their greenwashing techniques. Companies such as Exxon, Shell and Chevron use terms such as “net-zero emissions” and “low carbon.” In reality, gas and oil companies are responsible for 10% of all worldwide carbon emissions. There is no such thing as sustainable gas or oil. Gas and oil companies are so deceptive about their business practices that many people are suing them for misleading the public — and rightfully so. However, gas and oil aren’t the only industries that greenwash.

The fashion industry is the third largest polluting industry in the world, only after construction and the food industry. Fast fashion (cheap, trendy clothing made quickly to meet consumer demand) is terrible for the environment. Fast fashion companies such as Zara, Shein and H&M commonly use greenwashing terms including “sustainability commitments” and “green.” These phrases don’t mean anything legally. The recycling programs set up by fast fashion companies don’t even curb all the waste that the industry produces. These programs often end up throwing away most of the garments put into them. Only 5% to 10% of the clothes sent to H&M’s garment recycling program are made into new clothes. On top of that, H&M touts their clothes as being made from recycled materials. In actuality, roughly .7% of the fiber in their garments comes from recycling.

Diverting Blame and Avoiding Accountability

Greenwashing actively misleads consumers about the environmental impacts of the products they’re consuming, pushing the blame for pollution from the company to the consumer. Forty percent of the sustainable claims or pledges made by companies are misleading in some capacity. Misled, but well-meaning, consumers are robbed of actually decreasing their carbon footprints. Meanwhile, this greenwashing makes brands look more sustainable. 

Upholding such false reputations allows brands to avoid making any actual, eco-friendly, changes to their production processes. Many of the current sustainability initiatives from companies are only PR moves. While programs exist to certify green practices such as the B Corp certification, they’re imperfect. A B Corp certification does not automatically make for a good company.

Acting as Consumers

While greenwashing remains everywhere, there are things we can do as consumers to boycott it. Being more conscientious about what you buy is a great way to avoid falling for greenwashing. Make sure to thoroughly look into a brand before making your purchases. In depth research can show us how sustainable a brand really is. There are tons of helpful websites online that rate the sustainability of different brands. One such website is goodonyou.eco, which rates brands on cost and sustainability. Websites like this make it much easier to make more environmentally friendly choices when it comes to the products we buy.

Another thing I’ve been doing to be a more conscientious consumer is trying to limit my purchasing all together. Buying sparingly is one of the better ways to limit your carbon footprint, despite what greenwashed marketing might tell you.

As the public becomes more concerned about the environment, companies are quick to capitalize on that concern. Part of reducing your carbon footprint is being a more conscientious consumer. Remaining aware of our individual impacts and boycotting damaging brands helps encourage change. Speak with your wallet, and don’t stand for deceptive marketing.

 

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@elle_cowley_