Are we awash with misleading claims?

Smoke by Engin Akyurt from Unsplash

Greenwashing is claiming something is eco-friendly, green or sustainable when this is not the case and is not linked to any clear evidence. It makes consumers think they are helping the planet by choosing those particular items.

Ingredients in a product being described as “natural”, “organic” or “eco-friendly” or “green” leave us assuming that the whole product is so, when only some of the ingredients can be described in this way. For instance, you may have seen the latest TV advert from Cif and the emphasis, twice, on the fact that the product had a ‘plant-based ingredient’ (singular!).

Examples of greenwashing are:-

  • Fashion brands promoting clothes made of ‘sustainable’ fabrics, while the rest of their clothing line is damaging to the natural world.
  • Carbon offsetting, where we are persuaded that we can balance our own emissions by finding other ways to remove an equivalent amount of greenhouse gases from the atmosphere. This doesn’t mean that the companies do not produce any emissions!
  • The ‘recyclable’ label on some plastic items can be used for products that are not easy to recycle or have little value in being recycled.
  • Plastic items marked ‘biodegradable’ (needing specific conditions which are definitely not found in landfill) or ‘compostable’ (requiring an industrial composting facility and not a Council-run food composter) are claims that mislead the customer into thinking they are doing their bit by choosing to purchase those items.
  • ‘Plant-based’ – we could be persuaded that this sounds healthy but … are all the ingredients natural or combined with the highly-processed? In which case the resulting product is not all natural!

The government has introduced measures to combat greenwashing, although not as thoroughly as the EU, it seems. Let’s do our best to get more canny and take a closer look at the eco claims, and let’s try not to be seduced either by earth-friendly colours or beautiful images of the natural world on products!

Smoke by Engin Akyurt from Unsplash

In late January, 2024, the European Parliament approved a directive aimed at protecting consumers from misleading marketing. The new law will ban misleading environmental claims on products and improve labelling.

Members voted overwhelmingly in favour of the directive which aims to protect consumers from misleading marketing practices and help them make better purchasing choices.

“To achieve this, a number of problematic marketing habits related to greenwashing and the early obsolescence of goods will be added to the EU list of banned commercial practices,” the parliament said in a statement.

This means that terms including “environmentally friendly”, “biodegradable”, and “climate neutral” should no longer be used in advertising or on packaging without concrete evidence.