Greenwashing: What is it, and why should you care? By Stephanie Deline
by Stephane Deline • published on February 2, 2014
A good friend of mine was giving me the tour of her new home recently, and as she proudly marched me from room to room, she kept mentioning that she was saving the bathroom for last. I was puzzled by this, especially when she opened the door and I saw what was a very normal (albeit clean and large) bathroom. Wasn't I supposed to have my breath taken away here? Was there something spectacular that I just wasn't seeing? “Look!” my friend exclaimed, opening her medicine cabinet with a grand flourish and an ear-to-ear grin, “I've gone green!”.
There were bottles, tubes, bars and containers of all shapes and sizes crammed like sardines on the shelves that were lined with brown paper. The packaging on every item in that medicine cabinet was either green, brown, beige, or a combination of the three. Birds, leaves and trees danced on the labels, and the words “natural”, “green” and “organic” screamed at me from all angles.
My dear, clueless friend stared at me expectantly. “Well?,” she finally demanded, certain that I, the green beauty blogger with an obsession for non-toxic products, would be dazzled by her newfound eco-savvy ways. I blinked. I stared back at her. “Did you read the ingredients?,” I asked. And then there was a long, awkward silence. We spent the rest of the afternoon discarding these “eco-friendly” products and talking long and hard about greenwashing. Then we went shopping. I can happily report that my friend does indeed have a “green” medicine cabinet now.
“Greenwashing” (in beauty and personal care products) means a product or company uses terms like “eco-friendly” “all-natural” and “organic” to fool a consumer into believing that what they're selling embodies those terms, when in reality it does not. There is a well-known skincare, haircare and baby care brand that can be found at many drugstores. Packaged in oatmeal-coloured bottles decorated with serene-looking leaves, and even utilizing the word “natural” in its name, this brand works hard to convince you that you're buying something non-toxic.
Turn that bottle over, and you'll find parabens, PEG compounds, fragrance, and a plethora of ingredients that are nowhere near natural. The worst part is that this is not uncommon. Greenwashing is everywhere. The silver lining? You can protect yourself, and it's relatively easy to do it.
There are two simple ways to avoid greenwashing, and you're halfway there because the first is to know that it exists. The second is to follow this motto: Flip it over. This means that you should always be turning the product over and reading that label, because the promises, claims and catch-phrases on packages are not regulated or monitored. Brands can put greenwashing catch-phrases anywhere they wish, as long as they're not being specific. For example, a product can have the word “organic” on its label, and be full of chemicals, as long as a direct claim like “everything in this product is certified organic” isn't being made. And just because you see “made with certified organic ingredients”, or “made with all-natural ingredients” on a label, doesn't mean the product is all-natural or all-organic. It simply means there are some natural and organic ingredients somewhere in there, and I hate to say it, but more often than not, the rest of the contents negate the value of the natural ingredients.
The only way to know for sure whether a product is greenwashed is to read and understand the ingredients. No ingredient list available? Next. Looking through your medicine cabinet and finding things with ingredients you don't understand or can't pronounce? There are resources that can help you educate yourself about ingredients to avoid and embrace. (See the links at the bottom of the page.)
Your most advanced weapon against becoming a victim of shameful, unethical greenwashing is yourself. Take five minutes every day for a month to learn about an ingredient and its implications. Sort through your products and separate the truly non-toxic from the imposters. Green may be a state of mind and a way of life to you, but to many brands, it's nothing but a colour and five letters used to manipulate you out of your money, so that they can profit while your health suffers. What's so eco-friendly about that?
Remember, brands that greenwash are not expecting you to go as far as reading and understanding the label. The majority of people still do not read labels, and these brands know it. The only one who can prove to them that you can't be brainwashed or greenwashed is you.
Here are some links that can help you with your shopping:
Some of my favourite non-greenwashed brands and businesses:
Nezza Naturals (Victoria, BC)
Pure Fusion Cosmetics (Terrace, B.C.)
Delizioso Skincare (London, Ontario)
Paperdoll Cosmetics (Victoria, BC)
Sappho Cosmetics (Vancouver, BC)
The All Natural Face (U.S.)
Borne Cosmetics (U.S.)
Earthlab Cosmetics (Kelowna, BC)
Celtic Complexion (U.S)
www.simplebeautyminerals.com (San Francisco, CA)
www.hautcosmetics.ca (Surrey, BC)
www.luvubeauty.com (Exeter, Ontario)
www.eccobella.com ( U.S)
www.naturalbeautyskincare.ca (North Vancouver, BC)