Are you being greenwashed? Tips for shopping sustainably
Many Australian consumers want to shop responsibly, and supporting brands that are committed to the environment seems like a straightforward way to tread more lightly on the planet – in fact, Nielsen research suggests that conscious consumerism is on the rise, and more of us are willing to pay extra for sustainably produced products.
To meet the demands of responsible shoppers, businesses want to claim that their products are ‘green’ but unfortunately some of these claims don’t stack up. Greenwashing is a term used to describe the way some organisations spend more on making green claims, rather than implementing business practices to minimise their environmental impact.
Exaggeration rather than lying is the most prevalent form of greenwashing, and according to a 2010 study undertaken by TerraChoice, 95% of 5000 ‘green’ products surveyed were guilty of greenwashing in some way. Green claims are popularly made in product categories such as baby products, personal care products and cleaning products, and greenwashing is commonly found in advertisements, branding and product labels. That makes it challenging to find out which products are truly ‘green’.
According to this recent article in The Australian,there’s a growing demand from export markets for premium Australian products with proven sustainability merits. Although the same article mentions that simply making environmental claims doesn’t cut it anymore, consumers are still presented with countless ‘eco’ options. With so many choices and confusing messages out there it can be difficult to make well informed decisions about shopping responsibly.
Here are a few tips on what to look out for when shopping for ethical products and services:
Consider the full process:
It’s important to consider the environmental impact of the entire operation, as well as the product itself. This includes everything from the supply of raw materials, production, distribution and disposal.
Disclosing supply and manufacturing processes, listing the ways in which they are environmentally responsible and being up front about areas that could still be improved are good signs of a genuinely green brand. As more sustainable methods of operating are developed, it’s important for an organisation to be able to evolve.
Look for certifications:
We tend to rely on visual cues and key words to sway our purchasing decisions. Be wary of vague words like eco, earth, green, friendly and gentle, which can be mixed and matched to create a phrase that sounds environmentally conscious but doesn’t necessarily mean anything.
It may take a bit of research, but if a claim is being made it’s best to check out if there is a certification scheme to back it up.
We’ve put together a list of trustworthy certifications to help you choose more wisely. We know there will be others, so if you know of one we haven’t mentioned, please share it with us in the comments below.
ISO assesses the environmental impacts throughout a product’s life, from sourcing raw materials to production, use and disposal. ISO14001 is an internationally recognised set of environmental management standards, which is part of ISO.
Introduced by the Australian government in 2010, NCOS provides a benchmark for organisations working towards becoming carbon neutral. The standard sets out step by step requirements for achieving carbon neutrality.
GECA is the nation’s only not-for-profit, multi-sector eco labelling program, which assesses products and services for their environmental impact. It’s an internationally recognised accreditation, affiliated with the Global Eco Labelling Network.The website offers a handy product database to help consumers choose goods and services that are better for the environment.
The Equipment Energy Efficiency program helps to improve the efficiency of a range of home appliances, helping households and businesses to consume less energy, save money, and reduce emissions. The energy rating label provides consumers with information on the efficiency of a product at the point-of-sale, helping them to make well informed decisions.
Products certified with the Child Labor Free mark have a commitment to operating ethically, ensuring that the business is free of child labour. Certification is separated into three categories – the source category means that children were not involved at any stage in the creation of the product, from farm to store.
People for the ethical treatment of animals is the world’s largest animal rights organisation. This might be considered outside of environmental accreditations as such and more of an ethical concern, however, companies who use the PETA logo support the fair treatment of animals by refusing to conduct or commission any animal testing.