Well, the first thing to keep in mind is that even the most well-intentioned company can face numerous obstacles when moving toward eco-friendly practices, namely a lack of technical expertise and financial resources (Jeevan, 2014). If practices are successfully enacted, they must also prove to be sustainable to have any lasting impact.
Adding to this complication, government guidelines and regulatory agencies are littered with ambiguities about what constitutes “biodegradable” and “natural” products (Delmas & Burbano, 2011). Where clear regulations do exist, the ability to enforce them depends on manpower, financial resources and political will.
Action is needed at different levels:
Civic Action By Consumers:
Consumers are also leading the way by pushing for tighter regulations and standards. In Australia, for instance, companies do not require certification to label their products “organic.” Customers, increasingly concerned with fake organic claims, dared pressing the government to establish standards for the sake of both consumer protection and the country’s reputation for high-quality agricultural goods. This issue resonates in China, which is a big importer of Australian organic products. (More details on this issue can be found here.)
Civic Action By Private Social Enterprises:
Non-profits and social enterprises are beginning to provide individual consumers tools for fighting greenwashing. The Greenwashing Index, a product of the partnership between EnviroMedia Social Marketing and the University of Oregon School of Journalism and Communication, provides the public with information on cases of greenwashing. The Ecolabel Index is a databank of trustworthy labels organized by category and region. The Good Guide has reviewed over 75,000 products’ ingredients (and, in some cases, effectiveness or nutritional value), assigning them ratings based on an algorithm developed by environmental and health science experts. Similarly there are legitimate third party certifications like The Soil Association, The Leaping Bunny, EcoCert, The Green Seal among others, that one can look out for.
Policy and Regulatory Changes by Government Bodies:
There have been positive developments to combat greenwashing, notably among countries that have implemented stricter regulations. For instance, Norway has rolled out advertising guidelines for automakers: ads cannot use words such as “green,” “clean,” or “environmentally friendly”. The American Federal Trade Commission provides green guidelines for environmental marketing claims, and has the right to prosecute violators.
What Can The Conscious Consumer Do To Make The Right Choices?
- Step 1. Firstly, always- If you don’t need it, don’t buy it! Decrease your consumption, the less you purchase the less you might fall in the trap of greenwashing.
- Step 2. Support “green” products wherever you can, but scrutinise the labels carefully. Is the claim backed with adequate information, what is the percentage of the environmentally friendly ingredient in the big picture, does it have valid certifications, is it backed by a reputable board or is it some bogus name you don’t recognise. (Take your reading glasses along when you go shopping, so you can read the fine print!) Support the green product that provides the best proof.
- Step 3. Do some spade work - familiarise yourself with product classifications and reputable certification boards. If you are unsure about the product you have bought, investigate it for future reference, look up the alleged certification website to see if the product is listed.
- Step 4. Speak up! If you find an instance of greenwashing, write to the company for an explanation. If the response doesn’t satisfy you, publicise it on environmental platforms and community forums. Hold manufacturers accountable to their claims.
Finally, it is also important to keep in mind that even those labels that seem transparent and honest are worth taking a few moments to consider.
A Future Without Greenwashing
A global effort by companies, governments, NGOs, and consumers will be essential to combat greenwashing. Achieving improved access to information, higher standards, and clear guidelines and regulations will result in more trustworthy, eco-friendly products and services.
Informed and educated consumers hold the key to a future without greenwashing. Individuals that make smarter, conscious decisions when purchasing products and services will result in greater transparency and accountability from producers, and remove the ability for greenwashing to persist.
Be critical and investigative. Spreading awareness and individual experience.