Climate change is one of the largest threats to humanity. And if the experts are right, we may only have until 2050 to reach net zero.
That dismal state of affairs means that every effort counts. We've made great strides in reducing reliance on fossil fuels. We're pushing eco-friendly products that reduce the strain on our planet's ecosystem.
But what many fail to realize is that even small changes can do a great deal to help, decisions like choosing to use eco-friendly packaging.
Unfortunately, just because a company says they're sustainable doesn't mean they are. As an eco-conscious person, how do you know whether you can trust companies that claim to be green?
Keep reading as we discuss what greenwashing is, and how you can avoid it.
What is Greenwashing?
Put simply, greenwashing is when a company lies about minimizing its environmental impact.
The term derives from the word "whitewashing." Whitewashing is the deceptive practice of portraying history in an inaccurate way. Companies or countries with problematic histories may conceal or misrepresent events to protect their reputation.
Like whitewashing, greenwashing is done to obscure the unpleasant reality of a company's actual environmental actions. In the case of greenwashing, however, companies are doing so with the goal of growing their business. They are making claims related to eco-friendly and sustainable practices while making no real effort to follow through with their words.
The most common way they do this is with false marketing and advertisements. They may say that a certain amount of their product is made with recycled material. They may claim to use fewer resources or source their materials from ethical suppliers when that's not actually the case.
Examples of Greenwashing
This is very common in the restaurant and takeout industry. Chain restaurants will use "green" wrappers or cups that are biodegradable or compostable. They'll use paper straws and offer recycling options within the store for their products.
But without any data to back this up, this is simply a veneer. It's easy to put on these appearances, but a customer has no idea if that company makes real efforts behind the scenes to protect the environment.
Why do Companies Greenwash with “Eco-Friendly” Products?
People want to be more green. They do everything from sorting their garbage into recycling bins to riding bikes more often. Regardless of political stance, people want to feel good about how their decisions impact the environment.
Businesses recognize the strong public desire to support sustainable, green businesses. It's not hard to see why. Just by slapping a green sticker on product packaging, a company is guaranteed to be more competitive.
Further, most customers don't follow up with due diligence in researching a business' claims. Often it's a brand or business they already trust and support so they believe that the company is being truthful and buy the product.
Of course, this isn't just deceptive, it's harmful to the environment. Buying products under the guise that they are sustainable leads to decisions made on incomplete information. This slows meaningful change to protect the environment in the long run.
Restaurants produce a lot of waste every year. Customers need to know that their eco-friendly packaging is what it claims to be, and not a deceptive marketing tactic.
Is Greenwashing Illegal?
The short answer is yes. Companies can be taken to task for making false advertisements. Greenwashing is making false claims about a product, and if proven, can result in legal action.
How to Spot Greenwashing
Greenwashing comes in many forms, but there are a few basic questions you can ask when evaluating green products:
- Does the company provide any proof of its claims?
- Do they use vague terms like "eco-friendly" without being specific about how?
- Do they have very non-green business practices overall, but are "green" in a very small, insignificant way?
- Are they transparent about their green efforts?
- Do they provide easily-accessible information for the customer to verify their claims?
The point is, greenwashing is easy to do, but putting it into practice is hard. It will be easy to tell when a company is serious, and when they're grifting the system.
How to Avoid Greenwashing
Like with many things, certification can help you to identify true eco-conscious businesses. Any business can claim to have eco-friendly packaging, but few can back up that claim with certification. Fortunately, businesses can make it easy on themselves by buying from truly eco-friendly suppliers.
Look for SFI Certified products as well as BPI-certified compostable items. BPI-certified and SFI-certified products hold suppliers to the highest standards when making their products. Their products must have the following characteristics:
- Use sustainable resource extraction that protects natural habitats like forests
- Avoid resources obtained by illegal means
- Looking for compostable, NOT Biodegradable. Biodegradable can be used for any material that breaks down over time - including plastic, which contributes to microplastics in the environment. Compostable means that the product can completely break down back into natural elements that cause no harm to the environment.
Warning Signs of False Claims
A supplier should clearly label their products as having the right certifications. BPI-certified or SFI-certified labels promise that a product meets the strict standards of the certification body.
Be on the lookout for warning signs of something that is not actually eco-friendly. This may include a lack of testing from the ASTM (American Society for Testing and Materials).
These products may include things that are not actually compostable, such as PET or foam. Instead of these materials, look for bioplastic alternative like PLA, which is cornstarch that has the clear appearance of plastic. These clear plastic cups and lids will break down in the environment rather than remain in landfills for thousands of years.
Find Truly Sustainable Eco-Friendly Packaging
Eco-friendly products are one part of the equation for a sustainable future. However, companies have taken advantage of the green movement by greenwashing. Be on the lookout for false claims of sustainability, and source your eco-friendly packaging from certified companies with truly biodegradable items.
EnviroTakeout is a leader in eco-friendly, sustainable and compostable restaurant and takeout packaging.