How to Avoid Being Greenwashed


Going green is more than just a fad. This has become a way of life for many people, and they are taking steps to reduce energy consumption, save fresh water, and recycle paper, plastic, and glass items. The focus on green living does not escape the attention of companies, both large and small. Businesses of all types are looking for ways to promote their products and services as “green” and “environmentally friendly.”

Some of these designations have substance behind it. For example, equipment and products such as light bulbs that get EnergyStar designation meet energy efficiency standards validated by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Replacing an older refrigerator, freezer or washing machine with a newer EnergyStar is a smart move, saving you significant electricity over the life of the appliance.

Claims of other environmentally friendly products are less reliable and their value is more difficult to assess. Some of these green claims may actually be questionable validity. How do you rate cleaning products by marking “green” or “nature-friendly”? Many of these products only have green packaging. What about food products that are claimed to be natural? Taste is a good example of how consumers can be misled by claims of naturalness. Take fruit juices labeled “grape juice” containing grape juice, natural grape flavors, and other natural flavors. What exactly is that natural taste, and what is it? Such products can contain apple juice, other fruit extracts, and sweeteners such as high fructose corn syrup. All of these things are “natural” but not grape juice. Not all of these ingredients in grape juice products come from grapes.

What can you do as a consumer to protect yourself from fraud or losing money?

Here are a few suggestions.

First, learn which labels you can trust. Green claims that are not on the short list of trusted green sources must be viewed with care. Simple environmental or natural claims do not mean much without further validation. For food products, the appointment of “USDA Organic” sets a standard which means chemical fertilizers have not been used. This also makes it more costly for farmers to achieve it, so you might not find many foods labeled USDA Organic as cheap goods, but you will have the added comfort level that the label means what is claimed. If you are worried about how animals are treated in their use for food production, the label “Certified Human” is the label to look for. The third label you can trust is “Fairtrade” which ensures that farmers or producers are paid a fair wage or price for their products.

Don’t wash it green. Learn which eco-friendly labels can be trusted.