Anytime we hear the word washing it’s either to describe cleaning or muddling. Greenwashing muddles environmental efforts much more than it aids. Which is ironic, isn’t it? Companies parading around that they’re washing–cleaning–the environment when in reality they’re washing environmentalists' efforts to restore it.
And while this has been a prevalent issue for a long time, it’s not impossible to make a change! Like saving the environment, stopping companies from greenwashing may seem like an impossible task, but with a lot of imperfect people trying their best to make a difference, change is possible; and of course, it starts with educating one another.
What Is It?
Greenwashing results from the growing demand for environmentally friendly goods and services. While these demands are excellent for making change, it’s the deceitful marketing that takes a toll on these efforts. Rather than making sustainable, eco-friendly switches in ingredients and materials, many billion-dollar corporations are choosing to create misleading labels claiming the use of sustainable materials.
Although greenwashing seems like a more present-day term, it started in the 1980s when hotels asked guests to reuse their towels to “save the environment” when their true motive was to reduce their laundry costs. Since then, several companies have chosen to rebrand, rename, and repackage their products and services to appear more environmentally friendly to appeal to their customers or suit an ulterior motive. For example, a company calling a trashbag recyclable is accurate on the surface, but since trash bags aren’t likely to be separated or reused before ending up in landfills, the claim is contradictory.
The worst part is how easily these companies get away with it, and it isn’t your fault, you should be able to blindly trust these companies and their promises. You shouldn’t have to research labels and question the validity of a “green” product. When looking to support green, you should make sure the company is doing all the work for you – because that’s their job. It should be easy to spot their credibility and honesty in being environmentally friendly, oftentimes you know a company is being honest in their mission to restore the environment when it becomes part of their foundation. The company should consistently talk about how they’re taking the steps to make a difference, not seasonally or as an earth-day marketing scheme.
How It’s Harming the Environment
Deceitful companies harm not only the trust of their customers but the environment. Greenwashing misleads people into acting unsustainably without their knowledge. These companies create double the waste compared to companies that are transparent about being unsustainable because it attracts a different, broader audience of customers, and encourages customers to purchase more goods from their company since they’re supporting an “eco-friendly” business. It’s even proven that companies who preach green receive more income because their customers are willing to pay the extra dollar.
The extra purchases coupled with the larger production of single-use materials create more waste, ultimately harming the environment more than ever before. Customers that try to follow through with recycling or reusing materials, will find their efforts to be fruitless since the product was inefficient in being eco-friendly, to begin with.
One instance of greenwashing’s effect on the environment is the use of dolphin-safe tuna labels. The Dolphin Safe label used on tuna fishery cans, which once eradicated the massive dolphin slaughter in the Yellowfin tuna fisheries, now serves as a useless tool in making all tuna fisheries appear sustainable. When tuna is harvested from the ocean it destroys the ocean’s ecosystem in three ways: it lessens the food source for dolphins, the nets used to scrape at the coral on the ocean floor, and dolphins are almost guaranteed to get caught in those nets, inevitably dying. Thus, using a label that ensures dolphin safety, misleads people into supporting a negative act they aren’t aware of. If people knew that this label wasn’t a guarantee, they certainly wouldn’t support the countless companies that parade it. If you’d like to know more about this greenwashing scheme, you can watch ‘Seaspiracy’ on Netflix, viewer discretion is advised.
We know this topic can be disheartening, so before we move on to the next topic, let’s end this one on a positive note.
Several billion dollar companies have been class-action sued for greenwashing, including Walmart, Kohl’s, and Keurig Coffee Pods. They’ve all settled for changing their misleading labels, informing their customers that their products aren’t sustainable nor suitable for protecting the environment. While they may continue to mass produce single-use products, the public is now aware of their products and will stop purchasing them. With fewer consumers, comes less production! We may prefer that these companies make sustainable switches, but this is still a win for the everyday eco-warrior.
How to Stop It
The first step to stopping the problem is to learn how to spot it. Identifying brands that have already been recognized as greenwashers, noticing a brand’s lack of transparency, and watching for sources, verifications, and more, are great methods of spotting and ultimately ending greenwashing.
TIP #1 IDENTIFY
Identifying brands that have already been exploited for greenwashing is the first step to stopping brands from continuing to greenwash. As stated previously, brands greenwash as a way to get their customers to purchase more of their products at a higher price. By identifying which brands openly greenwash, you can stop purchasing from them. The fewer consumers, the fewer brands are likely to continue mass producing unsustainable products. They may even choose to make sustainable switches. If your favorite brands never make the switch, there will always be small businesses that are transparent about their process that you can support.
TIP #2 CHECK CERTIFICATES
Checking a brand’s certifications is a convenient way to see whether a brand is greenwashing. Not all certifications are easy to identify their validity, though, but we’ll give you a few credible certifications to look for that have a thorough vetting process:
- Leaping Bunny
- Guaranteed Fair Trade
- Cradle to Cradle
- 1% for the Planet
While these certifications ensure validity, it’s ok for brands to not have them. The absence of these certifications can stem from focusing more on a company’s community presence and sustainable message in the present rather than waiting for bigger certifications and charities to verify their efforts later on. For example, Surf Soap is still waiting for a few of its certifications but is still promoting sustainability and remaining transparent regardless. Thus, these certifications simply ensure that a brand is sustainable if the brand has them. If the brand does not, that doesn’t mean they’re completely counted out.
TIP #3 SPOT THE LANGUAGE AND DESIGN
Spotting a brand greenwashing based on their language and design marketing can be tricky at times, but rather reliable for most. Asking yourself whether the language used is specific is a great start; such as “natural.” Lots of ingredients can be considered natural such as arsenic, but that doesn’t mean it’s good for the environment. If there’s no emphasis on what’s natural, then the brand is most likely greenwashing.
The color green and sleek minimalist packaging can be dead giveaways. When we think of sustainability we oftentimes think of minimal design and the color green, and companies target that. A Coca-Cola can could turn green and be marketed as eco-friendly, but it’s still an aluminum can that takes years to biodegrade. In addition to the color, sudden rebranding can also be a red flag.
TIP #4 ASK THE RIGHT QUESTIONS
Asking yourself, or even the brand, the following questions can make or break the legitimacy of their efforts in making eco-conscious choices:
- How should the product be used and disposed of to meet sustainability claims?
- In what way is the material more eco-friendly than an alternative?
- What ingredients are used to make the product?
- Is it a single-use product or can it be used for other purposes?
- What is the shipping process?
- Is this the only option or are there unsustainable offers made by the company?
TIP #5 IS IT SPONTANEOUS?
A sudden alignment with an eco-friendly mission should raise some concerns. Especially if it’s shortly after ethical or environmental missteps are exposed by the public. After being called out, many companies will settle for the bare minimum, waiting for people to turn away to continue their unsustainable methods of manufacturing. When companies over-compromise and underdeliver, it can make greenwashing get swept under the rug; ultimately, leaving changes made. With that being said, ensure that your voice is consistently heard.
In addition to spontaneously making efforts after being exposed, companies that choose to go green during earth month, earth day, or any national environmental holidays, should raise concern. Most brands that choose to “go green” during this time either do so to remain in the positive public eye–never taking actual action–or to increase their consumer base and sales.
Lastly, remember that sometimes the lifespan of items you already own will always be the better alternative to purchasing new items. Sustainable packaging still produces waste, so unless the product is advertised as long-lasting or reusable, it’s better to stick with what you have.
What We’re Doing
Surf Soap aims to combat greenwashing by showing its customers that it’s possible to find products that work while conserving the environment. We aim to put the good wash back into the environment, or the “green” in this case. Surf Soap remains transparent from its formulation till it reaches your front door.
- Every ingredient is sourced from family-owned farms or sourced locally and harvested responsibly.
- We provide you with a small ingredient list under every product description and feature our thorough ingredient list on our website.
- Our tins are built as thick as necessary but as thin as possible to degrade faster.
- Our mailing boxes aren't made to last - so they degrade faster in a landfill.
- We strive to ensure all of our ingredients are approved by ECOCERT GREENLIFE and conform to the COSMOS standard. ECOCERT Greenlife is the global leader in the certification of natural or organic cosmetics and raw materials. By implementing and enforcing the COSMOS standard, the organization has united the international cosmetics sector intending to achieve long-term sustainability. Read more about the COSMOS STANDARD here.
- We repurpose the packaging received from ingredient orders.
- We use biodegradable packing peanuts that dissolve in water and when degraded into the environment, leave no impact.
- We use recyclable tins that can be reused for all kinds of different purposes aside from refills.
- Our products are manufactured in a solar-powered facility.
- Every product is handmade to ensure quality and to promote the local Hawaiian economy.
IN YOUR HANDS
- We ship via USPS because it is the most efficient and environmentally friendly way to ship
- We ship in sets because the environmental cost to ship one 5oz product just doesn't make sense to us. We try to be mindful about our sets and offer thoughtfully curated combinations that work together and work well in the environment they're designed for.
- If your cart is under 100g, the checkout button will be disabled. Why? Because shipping in sets reduces emissions and encourages thorough research before buying.
Check out our sustainability page for further information! Mahalo for taking the time to learn about greenwashing, and remember that above all else, you should look for products that are always environmentally friendly.
Vegan. Plastic Free. Ocean Safe. Always.