Tips for finding genuinely ethical products
Who really has the time to carefully research every single thing that they buy? We sure don’t. However, it’s also true that many of us are beginning to prioritise ethical and sustainable options when we shop. And that’s what we like to hear! So, we’ve curated a few simple ways that you can quickly identify greenwashing, to help you make healthier and smarter choices for our planet - and for your wardrobe.
But wait. What is greenwashing?
Put simply, it’s a cheeky (but bad cheeky, not fun cheeky) method of marketing that brands use to try and convince consumers that their products are more ethically sourced and sustainable for the planet than they actually are. We see it everywhere we go without even realising it – think about the last time you walked down the supermarket aisle. You probably spotted some products with a picturesque farm tableau splashed across the bag, or a humble but likeable farmer staring back at you from the side of a jar. Plus, all those warm, earthy tones? They’re much more appealing, gently suggesting that their insides contain health more than that neon blue product beside it, right? That’s greenwashing, too.
This marketing ploy isn’t just found in the hospitality industry – clothing brands are in on it too. Sadly, this practice usually slips under the radar and big brands avoid punishment. The twisted irony is that many brands put more energy into making you think they’re environmentally friendly than actually trying to become more environmentally friendly.
So you, dear consumer, have to know what to look out for to make sure you’re actually making choices that align with your values. Here are some Dos and Don’ts to help you get started.
- Don’t be Fooled by Buzz Words
You know them already. Organic! Natural! Eco-friendly! Green! Pure! So often, these words are pasted across the front of a product when they don’t actually mean anything. Not only that, but sometimes brands will use these false statements to distract from something else -remember the whole “Low Fat” (but actually really really full of sugar but hey don’t worry about that look over there instead) craze? If you see these kinds of words on a product, read a little further down to find out what’s really going on.
- Look Beyond the Packaging
Just like buzz words, packaging will often have fake certifications, seals, or ribbons on the front to try and reassure you that you’re making a good choice. But so often, these seals mean nothing and have been designed by the brand themselves! Lean in closer and you’ll realise that half of them only say things like, “Pure and Soft” or “Low in Sugar”. Our eyes have been trained to see this little blue ribbon and equate it to success, so more often than not, this is the product that ends up in our cart without much more thought.
Similarly, give it a second thought before always going for the products with the leafiest, greenest packaging – if the brand is truly environmentally-friendly, this will be reflected more in the finer details on the packet or on their website, rather than in those soothing autumnal colour palettes.
- Read Your Care Labels & Ingredient Lists
This is where you’ll find out what your product is actually made from, as well as where it’s come from – if your product is coming from the other side of the world, its air miles may make your purchase not quite as planet-friendly as you were hoping it would be.
Check out a brand’s website too and see if the information you’re seeking is easy to find, and easy to follow – companies that are greenwashing will use jargon to try and confuse you, or their information will be deliberately vague…or, nowhere to be found. Information should be accessible and understandable; the more transparent a brand is being on their website or social media, the better.
- Get to Know Your Eco-Labels
This doesn’t have to involve writing a PhD on the subject, but just a few minutes online can help you identify some of the significant certifications that you’ll want to look out for when shopping. If you feel overwhelmed by the information, just look out for the things that mean the most to you; if ethical forestry is your main concern, look out for the Forestry Stewardship Council certification, or if animal welfare is your priority, check to see if it’s PETA approved. There can be treachery afoot in this department, too: some certifications can be bought by a brand for just a few hundred dollars, and some are even awarded by the company themselves! Imagine if we could all just invent a seal of approval for ourselves and pop it on like a lanyard. Completely loses all meaning, right?
Here, the key is to look out for third party certifications. Most countries have a list online that’s pretty easy to find with a quick search. You can check out some of New Zealand’s environmental preferability options here, and you can see a complete list of Australia’s here.
- It’s all About the Mission
Jump on a company’s website or Instagram and see what their About Us page or Introduction says. Do their values align with yours? What makes them tick? Where do their profits go? If this information is hard to find, that could be a red flag. It could also be a lot of empty words, so if a brand claims to donate to an organisation or charity, this should be very easy to check by jumping over to their website. If the company seems easy to get in contact with, with email or a business phone number readily available, don’t be afraid to get in touch to ask for more information. The brands that actually do care about sustainability and ethical production are probably dying to tell you all about it.
So, there you have it – with just a little bit of reading or a few taps on your phone, you can discover a whole lot more about a brand than you might think. Companies and advertising have been trying to pull the wool over our eyes for a very long time, and sometimes this requires a little brain retraining by us to look beyond the buzzwords and inviting colours. Now that you know what to look for, you’ll find it unbelievably easy to not only spot greenwashing, but avoid it completely. Happy shopping!