By Daniel Reyes
As the Climate Emergency begins to dominate headlines and increasingly becomes a focus of consumers and brands alike, there has been a shift toward ensuring more environmentally conscious supplies and production techniques. In fact, some of the most polluting markets, like the fashion industry, are pushing for cleaner and more environmentally friendly products. However, with this trend has also come the unfortunate rise of “greenwashing” which refers to products that intentionally mislead consumers about their environmental footprint. A staple in food products, consumer items, and even electronics, greenwashing allows for companies to profit off of consumer goodwill.
Greenwashing can take many forms, from making unsubstantiated claims about environmental footprint to suggesting that buying a product leads to less waste or is overall more eco-friendly. This is dangerous because it hides the true environmental cost of products and keeps consumers in the dark about their choices. For Example, Starbucks released cups that had straw-less lids, claiming that straws were a huge source of plastic waste. However, these cups which were intended to reduce plastic consumption and waste were in fact made of more polypropylene, a commonly accepted recyclable plastic, than the original cups that used straws, thus actually increasing Starbucks net pollution.
Greenwashing is in fact the most cynical form of marketing: preying on the good faith of consumers who wish to buy eco-friendly products and make a difference all while charging a premium for goods and services that in fact continue to pollute the environment. By cashing in on people’s desire to buy products that don’t hurt the environment, industries are showing that we need more than just the good faith of companies to slap eco-friendly labels on their products, but need stringent definitions backed by data and proof that these labels actually mean what they say, as well as clarity on what labels mean. According to market research by Nielsen, 66% of global consumers are willing to pay higher prices for environmentally friendly products. This shows that the pollution by corporations is not because consumers are unwilling to pay for these green products but because industries are unwilling to pay more for cleaning up their production process and would rather increase profits.
This is why the stringency of these labels need to be enforceable through fines or other penalties that make it clear that greenwashing is not ok. Without serious consideration of the hidden costs and overall impact of what we purchase, buyers will never truly be able to reduce their carbon footprint in a way that actually responds to the climate emergency. Ultimately, passing off costs alone to buyers is not enough, we need bold action that holds polluting industries accountable for their actions.
The Climate emergency needs an overhaul of how we interact with our natural and built environment, and that can only start withholding big polluters accountable. By greenwashing the true environmental footprint and the consequences of buying certain products, these companies are misleading good faith consumers into purchasing items for a higher price that in fact are just as bad. Labels about eco-friendly or green items need to be about more than clever marketing, they need to actually mean something.
*Guest op-eds do not necessarily reflect the views of IECN.