How to Spot Greenwashing: Strategies for Shoppers

14 February 2024
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Consumers are right to be skeptical when retailers and manufacturers try to sell them something by making “green” claims—but there are legitimate options out there. If you’re willing to do the work, you can build your own value chain. Here are a few ways consumers can verify green claims.

  1. The more you know… Expand your literacy about sustainability, generally. The more you engage with sustainable practices and information yourself, the more likely you are to sniff out greenwashing.
  2. Build relationships with local growers and producers. Go visit them (make an appointment first!) and learn about what they do. Educate yourself about the industry and ask thoughtful questions. Be willing to learn.
  3. Reducing consumption is key. Ask yourself the tough question, “Do I need this?” As mentioned, we can’t shop our way out of the problem. Figure out exactly what you need and do the research BEFORE you visit the website or hit the stores. Try and keep the emotion out of your purchase and make decisions based on what you know, not how a store/product or salesperson makes you feel.
  4. Ask questions and think about your priorities. Is animal welfare important to you? What about workers’ rights? Local supply chains? Regenerative practices? Indigenous reconciliation? All of these issues can come under the “sustainability” umbrella. It’s hard to find one company that can tick all these boxes, but if you’ve got a good relationship with a producer, manufacturer, or retailer you trust, ask them about the things that matter to you and see if there might be ways that you can collaborate that support your priorities and move the issue forward.
  5. Beware vague or emotionally manipulative language. If there’s a campaign or a tag that talks more about the warm fuzzies and less about the actual methods, it might be time to do a little digging. Look for hard facts—numbers and processes. If it’s all heart talk and no head talk, maybe give them a pass.
  6. Watch out for buzzwords. Sort of like the previous point, buzzwords like eco, green, bio and so on, don’t really have anything behind them—they don’t actually MEAN anything concrete. If the biggest part of a retailer/processor or producer’s advertising features words like these, it’s time to ask some questions.
  7. Look at the label. In some cases, a fabric type (i.e., velvet or satin) will be indicated without saying which fibres were used to make the satin or velvet. It could be 100 percent polyester…and polyester is plastic. Some labels may say things like “100 percent organic cotton” but that doesn’t tell you anything about the way the garment was made, just the way the cotton was grown. There are lots of steps between a cotton plant and a T-shirt.
  8. Check out that price point. Bargain prices don’t work with sustainable practices. Part of sustainability means living wages for workers and you can’t sell a six-dollar shirt and pay someone fairly. It’s not possible.
  9. Carbon offsets can be…suspicious. You know what always rolls downhill? That’s right—accountability. Carbon offsets can be a way for companies to pass the buck for their own unsustainable practices. Maybe they plant trees or do something else that sounds environmentally friendly. None of that matters if the actual manufacturing process is full of problems. If carbon offsets are their strategy, it might be time to look somewhere else.
  10. Who’s behind the curtain? Who owns the product? What do you know—or can find out—about their sustainability track record? Some big companies have purchased smaller businesses but you would never know it. Find out who owns the product you’re looking at purchasing and then follow the money.
Copyright © Tara Klager except as indicated.

About Tara Klager

Tara Klager is a first-generation regenerative fibre farmer raising endangered and heritage breed sheep hard against the Rocky Mountain foothills in Alberta, Canada. With a passion for the land and a firm conviction that her role is to safeguard and steward the amazing place she gets to call home, Tara, and her husband Bob, have worked to build community with a wide range of representation - from LGBTQ2+ to Indigenous organizations to fibre enthusiasts and members of the public, Tara provides a place and framework to encourage discussion and interaction between a variety of groups and people. Whether you're interested in animal husbandry and welfare, endangered sheep breeds, the variety of practices that go into regenerative agriculture and how you might apply them to your own context or fibre and all its possibilities, Tara invites you to the homestead, a world of people, place and permaculture. Welcome to my frontier!

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