Written by Amarja K. Puranam 

In today’s environmentally conscious world, "greenwashing" is a term we hear more and more. But what does it mean, and why should you care? 

Greenwashing is when companies claim their practices, products or services are eco-friendly or sustainable, but in reality, they don’t live up to those promises. It’s a sneaky tactic marketers use to attract people who want to make a positive impact on the planet, even when the product doesn’t really make good on its claim.

Let's dive into understanding greenwashing better and learn how to steer clear of it.

The Green Facade

Imagine picking up a bottle of shampoo labeled "ocean-friendly", believing it’s good for marine life, only to discover it's filled with harmful microplastics. That’s greenwashing in a nutshell - it can range from outright lies to the more subtle twisting of truths. 

Companies might also boast about carbon offsets, like funding tree-planting projects to balance out their emissions. However, if those trees are later destroyed by natural disasters like wildfires, the effectiveness of such initiatives is significantly diminished. This demonstrates how greenwashing can give businesses a pass to keep polluting while appearing environmentally responsible.

Note that greenwashing is sometimes murky, like if a company acts with good intentions, but exaggerates their claims. They might say their goal is to be “net-zero by 2030,” but are they actually taking steps to rely less on fossil fuels? Or are they continuing as they have, while buying renewable energy credits that are hard to vet? 

The Media’s Mixed Messages

The media landscape, with its dizzying array of news and information, often leaves you confused about what's truly beneficial for the planet. For instance, reports praising the use of biofuels might overlook the significant carbon footprint of their production. This complexity muddies the waters, making it challenging for individuals like you and me to make informed choices. Starting in 2026, regulators in the European Union are set to ban some of these confusing claims, so companies there won’t be able to use terms like “environmentally friendly” or “climate neutral” without evidence—and offsets won’t count as evidence. 

Spotting the Greenwash

No one likes to be misled, especially when our planet's well-being is at stake. Here’s how you can spot and avoid greenwashing:

Buzzwords Beware: Terms like “eco-friendly”, “sustainable”, and “recycled” are thrown around a lot. If a product uses these tags without clear evidence of their eco-credentials, dig deeper.

Research the Roots: Sometimes, a product may seem green, but its manufacturer is far from it. Always look into the company’s overall practices before making a purchase.

Third-Party Validation: Legitimate eco-friendly claims are often backed by third-party certifications. Look out for these verifications to ensure a product or service is truly as green as it claims to be.

Check for Transparency: Genuine sustainable practices are accompanied by transparency. Companies that are open about their supply chains, production methods, and environmental impact assessments are more likely to be making legitimate claims.

Why Honesty Matters

Transparency is key to any ethical business. It builds trust with consumers, enhances the company’s reputation, ensures clear communication, promotes accountability, and can even attract investors. Being upfront about practices, impacts, and goals not only benefits the planet but also the company’s bottom line.

In the fight against greenwashing, knowledge is power. By becoming more informed and vigilant, we can support genuinely sustainable businesses and hold greenwashers accountable. Together, we can make a real difference for our planet.

Interested in diving deeper into the climate conversation? Terra.do’s Learning for Action (LFA) program offers a fantastic opportunity to learn more about environmental issues and how you can make a positive impact. Join the program to become part of a community that’s actively working towards a sustainable future.