If you have an interest in natural products - skincare, food or otherwise - I’m guessing you will be familiar with the phrase ‘greenwashing’ by now, but you would also be forgiven for not having the slightest clue, as it’s such a shiny new term that people are only starting to use. I’ve long been following the controversy surrounding greenwashing, so I thought I’d give you an easy guide to avoiding the products that are pulling the green wool over our eyes.
Let’s start with what greenwashing actually is…
Greenwashing is essentially the practice of a brand insinuating to its customers and the wider market that it takes environmental responsibility into account when creating, marketing and distributing its products or offerings.
The most difficult part of greenwashing is that it is legally allowed to happen, and there aren’t enough regulations in place stopping brands from throwing around the words, logos and imagery that convey an ethos they are not living at the core of their operations.
You’re probably wondering how on earth a brand can insinuate something if it’s not actually true, but it’s easier than you might think. Carefully chosen language and expertly designed packaging can subliminally suggest more to us about a product than is actually true.
The truth can be a little frightening, and is exactly why I so passionately advocate for transparency when it comes to Ohana’s products, and to the products I live with day-to-day; the food I eat, the personal care products I choose, and so on.
So how can we avoid being greenwashed?
I’ve spent years learning about the benefits of living as natural a lifestyle as possible, and choosing the best foods and products for my health, which means I’ve had years of practice in this area. But it wasn’t so easy back at the beginning of my journey to natural living, and I can completely appreciate the difficulty in scanning products looking for an ingredient that you might recognise as natural. Here are a few things I’ve learned:
Be positively suspicious
Suspicion may sound like a negative word, but in this case it’s something that you must incorporate into your shopping routine, so we might as well try to inject some positivity into the process. Take brand statements with a pinch of salt, and don’t trust everything you read on packaging that claims to be the best and most natural product you will ever use. Bold claims and buzzwords used by many brands often spin phrases to sound amazing without being truthful or scientifically accurate. Watch out for phrases like “carbon neutral”, “eco-friendly”, “sustainably sourced”, and “100% natural”, which are all rather vague and would benefit from a more in-depth explanation as to how this phrase came to be. If it’s sustainably sourced, how did they do this? If a brand is carbon neutral, where can we find a breakdown of their emissions and what they have done to reduce their footprint? Be mindful of this language as more often than not, it means next to nothing. Try not to be disheartened though, as staying positive and being grateful that you have the knowledge to decipher these claims will keep the shopping process fun and easy.
Ignore the packaging
One of the most basic things to watch out for, and most likely where greenwashing gets its name from, is the tendency for consumers to gravitate towards green, earthy, neutral packaging on the assumption that the product inside must be natural. We also love a logo, as our brain subconsciously tells us that this product or brand must have either won an award, or been certified for something positive. It’s good to know that brands can design their packaging any way they like, and there are no rules against adding logos to encourage a positive impression of what we hold in our hand.
In short, it’s all about spending a little more time in the aisles and doing your research to find the products that are genuine. Honest, natural brands do exist (Ohana being one of them), but unfortunately they are lost in a sea of bold claims that hold no merit. We’re all guilty of wearing rose-coloured glasses when it comes to our favourite brands, but the reality (and the ingredients list on the back) can be very different. Becoming educated is the only way to get the better of greenwashing.
I’ll be sharing more advice on natural living on the Ohana blog regularly, so check back often for all the latest, and reach out to me on our Instagram at @ohanacbd.