Sustainability | The great consumer greenwash

Deliberately confusing.

Deliberately confusing.

Unfortunately, there is no end to the number of brands willing to exploit the good nature of conscientious shoppers for profit.

Commonly referred to a greenwashing, it is the process of appearing to undertake sustainable and ethical business practices, when that is not the case.

Not only does this practice hurt shoppers, but takes sales away from brands that are genuinely challenging the current system as it relates to their supply chain.

The worst thing is that sometimes you are being asked to support admirable things like Fair Trade products – but with relatively little actually going back to the small-scale farmer – usually in a developing nation.

One example is now happening in Italy where Chinese sweatshops are illegally popping up to claim the coveted ‘made in Italy’ tag.  

While technically true, the garments are made by exploited workers who live in awful conditions.

Things we should all keep in mind when shopping – be sceptical and ask questions. Those who are genuine will have no problem with that. It is also worthwhile trying to verify any claims through an independent source – those are usually independent verifiers who build their reputation on their independence and transparency.

If something seems too cheap to be made by craftspeople or ethically-paid workers, there’s probably a reason. We all love saving money but do we want to test our ethics to save a few dollars? When possible try to identify genuine craftspeople or small-scale operators – farmers markets or craft markets are a good place to look.

Work with definitions rather than connotations. Does a green bottle make you slightly more likely to pick up a brand of body wash? Does the image of a dolphin imply the product is environmentally friendly?

Does an ‘all natural’ product catch your eye first? 

Companies do this because they know there’s a growing segment of consumers who are willing to pay more for sustainable and ethical goods, but also know that snap decisions in impulse purchasing can result in unnecessary purchases. ‘All natural’ is a term made up by marketers, it has no government backing and could apply to things that you wouldn’t otherwise buy.

After all there are plenty of ‘natural’ things that are not good for you! Try to look beyond branding and buzzwords and consider the ingredient list instead.