Greenwashing and the one fool-proof solution to protect yourself from it

Trying to be more sustainable means paying closer attention to what I’m buying and how sustainable those items are. I honestly thought I could take those labels at face value.

Don’t judge me.

Thankfully, YouTube quickly introduced me to the term “Greenwashing”, which the Internet defines as the act of portraying an organization’s product or services as environmentally friendly only for the sake of marketing. 

Basically, the companies are lying their ass off, pretending they are environmentally friendly when they’re really not.

And I’m not even talking about the terrifying “Clean Diesel” shit Volkswagen pulled (though that definitely counts as greenwashing.

I’m talking about the little things that every single consumer is exposed to. The labels, the ads and the little notes on packaging proclaiming this product is “biodegradable!” or “100% organic!” or “Insert-Chemical FREE!”. Or (something I recently learned was actually a thing) those bioplastics that are totally better than regular plastics because they’re actually easier to recycle or something.

When in truth, it’s only biodegradable under a set of very specific requirements, your country’s laws allow the companies to claim organic nature of a product if it meets a small number of criteria from a very large pool, and that chemical it’s free of is probably illegal anyway, so no products on the market have it.

Then, there are ad campaigns encouraging you to buy plastic-packaged products because part of the profits goes towards a worthy environmental cause. Buy bottled water to help clean the ocean. Buy that laundry detergent to help save the Rain Forest. Buy something to save the world. But if you look closely into the companies that are running those campaigns more often than not, you will find they had some sort of environmental scandal and they are in great need of good PR. And if the packaging from their products is disposed of incorrectly, it will only add to the problem.

Here’s a thing though: the amount of research you’d have to do every time you go shopping is terrifying. And it’s not like it’s easy to figure out if something you want was made sustainably. What’s the carbon footprint this thing you want has. How much waste you’re adding to the world by buying it. How many resources have been wasted in the production of that item?

I don’t know about you, but it’s all overwhelming to me. It’s as if the system is rigged against us, making it extremely difficult (if not impossible) to make good, sustainable consumer choices in every aspect of our lives.

It seems the only fool-proof solution to this problem is simply to

consume less

Buy fewer things. Pick sustainable items when you can, sure, but refuse to get things you don’t need in the first place. Reuse items where possible. Get things second hand. Do your best to move towards a circular economy. And most importantly, ignore the ads that try to get your attention. And if you hear a big corporation is starting a new campaign to help save the world, question their motives and double-check the facts to make sure they’re not hiding something behind that fresh coat of green paint.

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