Are You Being Greenwashed? Understand What It Is and How to Spot It 
You're not alone if you pledged to shop more sustainably in 2023. 

According to the Climate Compass 2022 report, 58% of Aussies are becoming increasingly concerned by climate change, with many willing to fork out on eco-sound versions of their favourite products (yes, even during the cost of living crisis). 

But here’s the thing: Some brands spend more time and money on marketing themselves as environmentally friendly than they do on actually reducing their carbon footprint. 

In other words, they're all talk and no action. 

This shady form of PR spin is referred to as “greenwashing” – a deceptive practice where companies make broad sustainability claims without evidence; overstate their positive environmental impact; or advertise their products as “eco-friendly”, when really they’ve just slapped a virtue-signalling sticker on a green box. 

While the term was coined in the 1980s, the methods are dangerously sophisticated in the 2020s. Just last year, major fashion labels came under fire after the Higg-Index – an industry-developed sustainability rating system – was criticised for favouring synthetic materials made from fossil fuels,  failing to follow an item’s full life-cycle and, ultimately, misleading consumers. 

Of course, greenwashing goes far beyond fast fashion and despite the recent findings from the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, many businesses continue to make false claims about their environmental efforts, fooling shoppers and hindering progress towards a greener future. 

In March 2023, following an internet sweep of 247 businesses, the Australian Competition & Consumer Commission (ACCC) reported that a whopping 57% of the companies they reviewed were guilty of making “concerning claims” about their environmental credentials. 

This revealed eight key concerns:  

  1. Vague and unqualified claims 
  2. A lack of substantiating information 
  3. Use of absolute claims 
  4. Use of comparisons 
  5. Exaggerating benefits or omitting relevant information 
  6. The use of aspirational claims, with little information on how these goals will be achieved  
  7. Use of third-party certifications  
  8. Use of images which appear to be trustmarks. 

So how can you avoid being hoodwinked by brands looking to cash in on the climate crisis?

For one, don’t be fooled by the packaging.

Pictures of flora and fauna and cryptic environmental symbols are tactics some brands employ to make their packaging appear more eco. Even the colour green has been used to create the illusion of sustainability. 

Truly planet-positive packaging will be plastic-free, recyclable or compostable and composed of a single type of material. Most importantly, it will be minimal. 

You should also be wary of virtuous, but vague, wording. 

if the product you’re eyeing is plastered with empty buzzwords like all-natural, earth-friendly, non-toxic, plant-based, raw, organic or eco-friendly but you can’t access any reports that confirm their claims, it’s likely greenwashing

Finally, familiarise yourself with legitimate certifications.

Shockingly, there’s no universal regulatory definition, so eco labels are up for interpretation by each manufacturer. One brand’s “sustainable” label might mean that they use biodegradable wrapping, but for another it could indicate environmentally-conscious farming practices.

While there are close to 60 labels currently used by Australian businesses to signal that their product or service is sustainable, only about 17 are legitimate.

Labels you can trust include Australian Certified Organic, the Energy Star Rating and Fair-trade International, with the full list available over here 

Are you ready to join the eco-friendly movement in style? This July, Casper Magazine is showcasing a range of sustainable brands that are both good for the planet and good for you. Subscribe to our newsletter so you don’t miss a beat. Drops every Thursday! 

Curious to learn more? Dive into the next piece! : Greenwashing: Sorting the Eco-Friendly from the Eco-Frauds


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Are You Being Greenwashed? Understand What It Is and How to Spot It