Greenwashing: 10 tactics to avoid it when shopping online

Dianne Castillo

Dianne Castillo

sphere shaped globe with googly eyes

How many brands would actually choose the planet over profit? Well, apparently not as many as we are led to think. It turns out, greenwashing is rife. Here’s how to avoid it. 

Get our best content on Climate Action in your inbox every week

What is greenwashing?

Greenwashing is when a business acts like they are doing good for the environment through marketing campaigns that are laced with greens, blues, and buzz words like “natural.” But, in reality, they are hurting the very same environment their copywriters claim to be saving.

Consumers want to go green; especially millennial consumers. And it is this that leads brands to manipulate consumers via greenwashing. More and more Millennials are jumping on the eco-conscious bandwagon and saying they want to shop for brands that embrace purpose and sustainability.  As consumers, we have a tremendous amount of power to affect manufacturers through our purchases. So, we need to be knowledgeable about our wallets.  

Who is susceptible?

You! Buyers who are keen to save the world by doing their bit might get misled by greenwashing tactics.  One Tribe has compiled the top greenwashing tactics to avoid if you want to spend your money with brands that are truly being sustainable rather than those pretending to have an environmentally ethical agenda.

Shopping sustainably online just got smarter with our greenwashing tactic guide.  A whopping 81% of EU citizens do not trust clothing brands that claim to be environmentally friendly.  You’ll be able to spot the green imposters by a mile once you are done reading this article! 

woman shopping online

Top 10 Greenwashing tactics to avoid ASAP

1.  Green by Association

The brain is a funny organ.  It will actually associate two unrelated things because they are paired together through visuals or audio.  So, companies will trick your brain into unconsciously believing they are eco-friendly without ever actually saying they are green in words

There are a number of ways they can do this but some of the most popular ways are by taking product photography in beautiful natural settings. By naming their products in such a way that your subconscious believes this associates their brand with being sustainable.

2. Using Unrelated Adjectives

The words “all-natural”, “green”, “eco-friendly”, “plant-based” “earth-friendly” and “organic” are being used constantly in packaging…but did you know that there is no clear, uniform, regulated use of these terms.

This means that anyone in the world can slap those words on their packaging even though their product may be the furthest from the truth of being friendly to mother Earth.  The actual sustainability that those companies are practicing is undoubtedly disappointing.  Don’t believe everything you read, especially if it is green.

3. Not Being Certified

The words we just described above are commonly used for greenwashing, but keep in mind not all companies are trying to pull the wool over our eyes.  A company can say they are “natural and organic” and be truthful about it if they have one of the certified labels below.  These are companies you can trust to only certify brands who are truly as green as they say they are.

Organic and natural packaging labels
4. No Proof in the Pudding

Especially with the art of online shopping, it’s easy to make impulsive buying decisions without doing your research to see if the brand you are buying from is not only talking the talk but also walking the walk.  Digital shopping carts actually also make it easy to check if a business really does have a role in helping the environment.

Simply open up a new tab and check if the brand has any evidence or reliable third-party certification labels like the ones pictured above.  Google the company name and greenwashing as keywords and you’ll learn more about whether the brand is worth your pounds or not.

5. Lesser of Two Evils

It’s hard to be 100% good all the time, so companies persuade people by making them play the comparison game.  Companies sometimes trick customers into thinking they are making the better choice when they’re actually making a choice that is equally as unhealthy or bad for the environment as the product that isn’t greenwashed. 

A classic example of this would be a company that sells organic cigarettes.  They are just as harmful to someone’s health as conventional cigarettes, but slap the word “organic” on just about anything and you’ll have a whole target market of consumers falling for the product.  

6. Ignoring the Entire Product Life Cycle

This is a popular one amongst greenwashing companies.  They’ll only tell you part of the story of their product’s lifecycle, such as that it contains recycled material.

Doing this improves the product’s eco reputation. They then fail to talk clearly about the manufacturing process which could include activities that are seriously detrimental for the environment AND human health such as use of a large amount of carbon emissions, conventional energy or binding agents.

7. Being Purposely Vague

Being broad and vague on the packaging or product description is a common phenomenon amongst brands who want to seem like they’re good for the environment without being straightforward about it. 

This tactic can be another way a company can use a good statistic for marketing such as the amount of recycled material they’re using per year, but then not share other less ethical and sustainable statistics such as horrible working conditions.  

Some vague claims you should look out for are:

  • “Free of”
  • “Non-toxic”
  • “Less of”
  • “Made from”
  • “VOC-free”
  • “Ozone friendly”
8. Hidden Parent Company Polluters

It’s no secret that it is becoming more and more mainstream to be environmentally conscientious. Large conglomerate brands are reacting to this trend by creating smaller brands and using vague keywords paired with idyllic imagery of the environment.  Sometimes the parent company is not listed on the packaging so it takes a pretty earth-conscious consumer, like you, to do the research. 

An ugly example of this is Love Beauty and Planet which look very eco-friendly on the surface, but in reality have a parent company, Unilever, who is responsible for a significantly large amount of the earth’s plastic pollution (70,000 tons of pollution to be exact). 

greenwashing fiji water advert
9. Contradicting Values

Some brands act like they have values that benefit mother earth when really the very product they’re making is destroying it.  Let’s talk about Fiji Water.  It’s a bit ironic that a company that sells water that is transparent is not transparent about their business practices. 

Fiji Water actually faced a class action lawsuit for promoting that they are carbon negative.  They went as far as to say that each purchase of a bottle of Fiji Water will result in a net reduction of the carbon in the atmosphere by 120%.  This might be true, but the effects won’t be seen until much, much later in the future: 2037 to be exact.

 10. Imaginary Friends

Imaginary friends are not just thought up by small children when they’re playing.  They’re also made by companies that want to seem credible by associating themselves with brands that seem like they would make environmentalists happy, when in reality they don’t even exist.  These can come in the form of labels that look like they are third party endorsements.  Pretty darn sneaky if you ask us!

graphic showing greenwashing types in boxes

What can I do next? 

Brands are capitalizing on eco-anxiety, which is fear and worry about the future of our planet and all of its inhabitants such as animals and you know, us.

It’s important to vote with our money, by buying brands that are ethical and sustainable both for the earth as well as for humans and animals.  Hopefully, by being a bit more knowledgeable of all the ways a company can commit a greenwashing faux pas, you can make the right choice at the digital checkout counter.

Keep track of how best to avoid being capitalized on by brands on our blog.

Join the tribe!

Connect your business or place of work. No credit card needed.

planet over profit, hurting the environment, consumers want to go green, eco-conscious bandwagon, embrace purpose and sustainability, save the world, greenwashing tactics, environmentally ethical agenda, shopping sustainably online, environmentally friendly, spot the green imposters, green by association, unconsciously believing they are eco friendly, associates your brand with being sustainable, all-natural, eco-friendly, plant-based, earth-friendly, being friendly to mother earth, actual sustainability, undoubtedly disappointing, commonly used for greenwashing, companies you can trust, online shopping, impulsive buying decisions, helping the environment, equally as unhealthy, bad for the environment, product life cycle, improves the products eco reputation, manufacturing process, detrimental to the environment, human health, large amount of carbon emissions, conventional energy, binding agents, good for the environment, recycled material, less ethical and sustainable, horrible working conditions, free of, non-toxic, less of, made from, VOC-free, Ozone friendly, environmentally conscientious, conglomerate brands, parent company, earth conscious consumer, Love Beauty and Planet, eco-friendly on the surface, earth’s plastic pollution, contradicting values, Fiji water, class action lawsuit, carbon negative, make environmentalists happy, brands are capitalising on eco-anxiety, fear and worry about the future, vote with our money, buying brands who are ethical, greenwashing faux pas, make the right choice.