What to Avoid When Shopping Sustainably

If you didn’t read our last post on greenwashing, I recommend you start there. But to sum up what greenwashing is without re-stating an entire article– it’s when companies paint their brand as clean, ethical, or sustainable, when in reality it’s none of those things. 

Greenwashing is basically a trend nowadays, albeit a damaging one. There’s multiple reasons for that, from government intervention to customer demand. There are things we can do, or be aware of, to avoid falling into Corporate America’s very well laid traps, however.

How do we know if they’re greenwashing?

Greenwashing tactics aren’t as subtle as you might think. It’s actually pretty easy to spot once you’ve become aware of it. Here are a few things to look out for when you’re trying to shop sustainably:


A carton of boxed water

Anyone who has written a college essay knows the difference between facts and fluff. Fluff is the filler you add around the actual content (the important stuff) to make your paper longer than it is. 

Of course, product labels are a little different in that you’re not trying to hit a page count… but you ARE trying to prove something that might not actually be true. And what better way to do that than adding fluff… i.e. buzzwords like “natural”, “green”, or “eco-friendly” that don’t actually mean anything. 

Take Huggies pure & natural diapers, for example. Sure it says natural on the label, but is it ACTUALLY natural? Not by a long shot. In fact, if you checked the fine print, you’d have noticed that cotton was only used on the outer cover and only a small fraction of the product actually used renewable materials.

So what happened to the product? They were discontinued in 2015. BAM!

Evocative pictures

We’ve all seen this. It’s when a brand uses connotative imagery to suggest that it’s green. It’s kind of the equivalent of sticking a picture of a farmer digging up potatoes on a potato chip bag. Sure it started off as a potato at some point, and if you need to tell yourself it’s paleo to brainwash yourself– by all means go ahead– but at the end of the day a picture is still a picture. 

AKA just because the packaging has plants on it, doesn’t mean the product is actually green. I’m pretty sure that’s just greenfishing (If you know, you know). 

Changes to branding

Ever seen a product that started off one way and a few months later, they’ve completely re-branded? No? Let me jog your memory.

BP, once known as British Petroleum, launched a $200 million rebranding campaign in the mid-2000s and officially changed its name to Beyond Petroleum. They also swapped out their old logo for a green and yellow sunflower to improve its environmental image. 

But really, do I actually have to tell you that a fossil fuel company probably isn’t green? And if you’re sitting there arguing right now here are the numbers: BP spends more than 96% of its annual budget on oil and gas. 

Legitimacy claims 

A box with symbols for recycling on it

This is when a company fabricates information. Or in layman's terms… making ish up. 

Case and point. A class-action lawsuit was filed against Hefty Recycling bags in May 2021 for claiming that their bags were “designed to handle all types of recyclables”. Spoiler alert. 

They weren’t. Not only are they NOT recyclable but they actually contaminate whatever is inside. And what happens to contaminated waste? They end up in landfills, of course!

How Do We Avoid Greenwashing?

All this leads us to a question. With more deceitful marketing tactics and greenwashing strategies being employed on the daily, how do we filter through products and support brands that are ACTUALLY green? Here are a few tips to give you a starting point:

  1. Watch the labels. Sustainable brands use clear details on their labels. Instead of vague terms like “natural” or “green”, look for specific units like “80% organic cotton”, etc. 
  2. Look for transparency and accurate reporting. When I say transparent, I mean it can be verified. Look for credible third-party certification logos. 
  3. Identify green initiatives. Green initiatives promote eco-friendliness and sustainability while simultaneously meeting business goals.One such organization is ConsiderBeyond.