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The Truth About Greenwashing

Jan. 15, 2020I was recently served a suggested account on Instagram with an image that depicted a gorgeous green forest canopy and an impossibly blue sky above — quite literally the picture of a healthy environment. Tapping on it, I was expecting to find the page of a landscape photographer, or a new sustainable brand, or maybe an environmental group I hadn’t heard of.



Imagine my surprise when I was met with the true owner of the account: BP PLC. Formerly known as the British Petroleum Company. The same BP responsible for the 2005 Texas City Refinery Explosion, the 2006 Prudhoe Bay oil spill (the largest oil spill in Alaska’s North Slope), and the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill — which is, to date, the largest unintentional release of oil into the ocean in history. Yep, that BP. A quick scroll through the company’s IG page tells a vastly different story than the tragic headlines that announced the spill of nearly 5 million gallons of oil into the ocean and the deaths of 11 workers as a result of Deepwater Horizon, instead there were images of green pastures, smiling workers, and healthy wildlife.

This is the same BP that, in 2018 — just two years ago — was the largest opponent of the carbon fee initiative in Washington State. So what’s going on? Did BP suddenly go green? Or is something else at play here? The answer, as it usually is, is complicated, and while the company boasts of solar power initiatives and sustainable aviation fuel, what it’s attempting to do — essentially erasing all memory of their past environmental crimes — is called Greenwashing, an increasingly pervasive trend among companies large and small.

 

Photo by John Mark Arnold on Unsplash

 

What is Greenwashing? 

Described by Investopedia as, “The process of conveying a false impression or providing misleading information about how a company’s products are more environmentally sound. Greenwashing is considered an unsubstantiated claim to deceive consumers into believing that a company’s products are environmentally friendly.”  

Greenwashing is essentially pretending to be more environmentally friendly than you actually are, especially when the “you” in the equation is a consumer-driven company. 

Greenwashing is an oil company responsible for the largest spill of crude oil into marine waters in history creating an Instagram account that posts gorgeous photos of the ocean, and about fish food made from petroleum. 

 
 

It’s a fast-fashion brand boasting of newly-installed solar panels on its headquarters while the polyester clothes it sells are made in factories overseas, decidedly not powered by solar.

And it’s a bottled water company with the slogan “Mother Nature is our Muse” that sources water from California, a state that’s been in a drought for nearly a decade.

The list goes on and isn’t relegated to large companies. In fact, some of our favorite “green” brands are guilty of Greenwashing their products. Greenwashing is the dark side of our growing understanding and awareness of climate change. Brands large and small know that most consumers want to make good choices about the products they use, but many of those consumers don’t want to drastically change their habits.

 

Photo by Andreas Gücklhorn on Unsplash

Habit-changing is hard, we all know it, and if a favorite brand suddenly decides to “go green” it’s a win-win: the consumer feels good about the product and their habits, while the company makes good in the headlines. No one has to change a thing, except maybe some packaging that smacks “organic” and “eco-friendly.” With climate change at the forefront of consumer’s minds, companies know their environmental records play a huge role in profitability, so naturally, a business with a poor record will do their best to try to hide it (BP’s Instagram is a prime example of this), but Greenwashing isn’t relegated to a shiny package used to hide past misdeeds. 

 

You Don’t Always Get What You Pay For

A Nielsen poll conducted in 2015 determined that 66 percent of consumers would be willing to pay more for sustainable products (and the number jumps considerably for younger consumers). Most of us want to know that the products we’re purchasing aren’t completely destroying the Earth, which is why so many of us choose to buy from companies we believe to be committed to the environment by producing organic or sustainably made materials.

Most of us are happy enough with packaging and marketing, without digging any further. A prime example of this is bottled water companies. With images of mountain-fed springs and promises of stewardship adorning each bottle, it’s easy to be lulled into a sense of making the right choice when reaching for a bottle of water at the market or convenience store. However, if you stop to really think about it, whatever stewardship the business is doing can’t make up for the fact that they’re producing millions — billions, even — of plastic bottles of regular tap water each year, and only 30 percent of the bottles are likely to be recycled. So you see the conundrum. It’s hard to be sustainable in any way when you’re a company producing, essentially, garbage. And lots of it. This is why it’s so important for us, as consumers, to educate ourselves and make informed choices. We can’t be perfect in our purchases, but we can do the work to ensure the companies we’re supporting and purchasing from are less shady.

 

Photo by Nynne Schrøder on Unsplash

How can we do this? By questioning the claims made on products, and researching the items we’re considering buying along with the companies themselves. Not all companies participate in Greenwashing, and there are some amazing choices out there when it comes to better-made and more sustainable items. The trick is to do your homework, be skeptical of the claims they make, and do some digging. 

 

What do you think about Greenwashing? Share your experience with us on social by tagging @AvocadoMattress and #AvocadoGreenMagazine!

Julie O'Boyle

By Julie O'Boyle

 —  Julie O'Boyle is a freelance writer and content strategist with a background in fashion and DIY and a devotion to the outdoors and functional nutrition. Currently residing in the woods of Maine, when she's not writing you can find her at the beach or on a mountain, or otherwise getting her hands dirty.

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