Have you heard the term "greenwashing?" I've mentioned it in past articles, and a few recent news stories have outlined the definition. According to Merriam-Webster, greenwashing is "the act of misleading customers and potential customers into believing that a product or service is environmentally friendly." Although the tactic is basically just lying to the public, it has become effective in the last few years because of growing concern for the environment. A large number of people may see that a brand is advertising as eco-friendly and support it for that reason alone, without investigating just how true the claim may be. This may give those people a sense of success, that they are acting on behalf of the planet, and that they are doing good for the world. However, they're often just eating out of the hands of the big corporations who prioritize profit over anything else. So, although the corporations are disregarding public concern for the environment and lying to their customers, the responsibility seems to fall on the consumers to sort through different company's claims and choose the most environmentally friendly option.
Now the question begs, how do we shift responsibility back to the corporations? Unfortunately, the first step must be a personal decision to take initiative to tackle the tricky part and sort out which companies hold economic values and which ones hold ecological values. Although it shouldn't be up to the consumer to make the change, it will have to start there. The more we as buyers spend our money supporting environmentally friendly organizations and businesses and not big corporations, the less those corporations will profit. If they begin to lose their income to smaller, more sustainable businesses, they just might begin to realize what we consumers really value. Hopefully, this will encourage them to change their production methods and push the responsibility back on the producer instead of the consumer.
So, if you find that you care about the environment enough to support businesses with "green" values, then you should want to know whether your money is truly making an environmental impact, or if it's just going to a corporation that's taking advantage of you with their use of greenwashing. To make sure you're supporting organizations who are truly dedicated to sustainability, you will have to find as many resources as you can and use them to form your own opinion of the businesses. There are plenty of websites to help sort out the good from the bad; the National Science Foundation provides a list of tips on how to avoid greenwashing; Food Revolution Network's 5 Steps to Choose Truly Healthy and Sustainable Foods encourages smart, greenwashed-free grocery shopping; Going Zero Waste enforces the importance of doing your research.
Bottom line: greenwashing can be found all over, and it's definitely something to be skeptical of. Know what to look for to avoid it, keep an eye out, and do a little research if you're not sure. It isn't just about spending lots of money on fancy sustainable clothes, but instead about using the power that you have as a consumer to vote with your wallet and let your money speak for what you value.
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