What is greenwashing and how to avoid it?

It is important to check where products come from. Carol Väljaots
Written by Carol Väljaots and Anna Maria Zukowska

The topic that we’ve all heard about – global warming. It’s getting more and more attention in social media, a common topic in the news and a big argument during conversations. Because of a massive media spotlight, many people are trying to live a more sustainable life – buying products that seem better for the environment. Although they could be falling for lies that companies are telling them. They are falling for greenwashing.

Definition of greenwashing

According to Wikipedia, Greenwashing is a form of marketing spin in which green PR (sub-field of public relations that communicates an organization’s corporate social responsibility or environmentally friendly practices to the public) and green marketing (marketing of products that are presumed to be environmentally safe) are deceptively used to persuade the public that an organization’s products, aims and policies are environmentally friendly.

To make it easy, we can say that it’s companies trying to trick people into buying their products/services using different types of greenwashing. For example, it creates fake labels, promoting the one (and the only) thing about the product or service that is environmentally friendly, using pictures or colours that trick our minds etc. The reason for that is usually more significant sales and spotlight.


1. Imagery & Misleading labels

This type of greenwashing is used in product advertisements and in the way of presenting the product. People associate the use of plants and animals with nature, and it gives them the impression that products are more natural and ecological.

That way of greenwashing is also called green marketing. Green marketing is not always bad, but companies often misuse it.

Example: A lot of meat or dairy products have a picture of a happy animal on the field, which in most cases is false. The animals live in tiny factories with no room to run free as they should.

2. Clickbait (labels)

This type of greenwashing is described as a total lie used by companies who make their own labels and certifications to click-bait you into buying their products. The most famous words such as “organic”, “recyclable”, or “certified” are used to make you, the customer, have an illusion of trying to make a change. However, they are just getting more money for the product.

It is important to check where products come from. Carol Väljaots

3. Irrelevant Claims

Companies use this type of greenwashing to make their product seem free of chemicals that they shouldn’t include anyways. Other than chemicals, it could also be ingredients or animal testing claims. Their goal is to make you think that they are instantly environmentally friendly because they don’t use popular threats to the earth in their products.

Example: Ice cream, soap, detergent etc. – all of those products don’t necessarily need to use palm oil, but when a company is writing with big letters that the product is “Palm oil-free”, it makes it look like it should. The customer will instantly think that this company is environmentally friendly.

4. The Red Herring

This type of greenwashing is when companies make one product more environment-friendly to promote their brand. There are many different ways of doing that.

  1. The product is recyclable, but the production itself is harming the planet.
  2. The package is eco-friendly, but the product itself isn’t
  3. The product is eco-friendly, but the container isn’t

Example: Used a lot with shampoos and soaps. The product itself might be with all the natural ingredients, but the little secret behind the production is that the company is testing those products on animals.

5. Vagueness

This type of greenwashing makes it seem like the product is environmentally friendly by using words that catch people’s eyes. Although the terms are vague in a way that they don’t explain the HOW of the production and WHY it is “eco-friendly”, “bio”, “recyclable”, etc.

Example: “sustainable,” “non-toxic,” “biodegradable.”

6. Animal testing/mistreating

This type of greenwashing makes people think that animals are taken good care of, and they live their best life. Still, the reality is that animals belong to nature, and people shouldn’t earn money under cover of animal asylum.

Example: Seaworld, zoos, circuses and touristic places use animals as an entertainment piece.

Why should we care?

  • Customers pay more to be sustainable but actually support a company that doesn’t make a difference at all.
  • The customer believes that they are making the planet a better place but actually help to destroy it.
  • A culture of greenwashing can get in the way of legitimate ecological initiatives.
  • It’s harmful to our planet, animals and us.

What to do?

There are many ways to be a more informed consumer. As the most reliable, we can mention the research, being constantly up to date with changes and certificates. It is not easy, considering how much contradictory information is available on the Internet. To find out more about ecological, environmentally friendly products, we decided to interview the owner of a zero-waste store in Thessaloniki – CHARILAOS.

The shop is quite traditional. It has grown tremendously, starting from close to 40 and finally reaching over 1900 products over the years. Although there have been many improvements since the 1950s, it maintains its format like weights of selling products. That is due to the location on the local market.

When we ask Mr Lazaropoulos how he finds trusted suppliers for the store and what he follows when choosing, he replies, ” There’s a wide variety of people I cooperate with – producers and importers. The base and foundation of that is friendship and cooperation over the years. As well as the knowledge of what I like and the way I like it. All products in the shop are environmentally friendly and pure. They are grown without any chemical substances and any kind of reformation.”

Mr Lazaropoulos, owner of a zero-waste store in Thessaloniki – CHARILAOS. Carol Väljaots

We are trying to find out more about the origin of the products. So we ask if they have any certificates and whether they are popular in Greece. But Mr Lazaropoulos is not sure if labels exist in Greece. According to him, it can be something that would be more popular in the future. Considering that our shop owner only cooperates with trusted suppliers, the topic of greenwashing was unknown to him. So we introduced him to unfair tactics and asked if he had any advice for buyers.

 “We’re kind of victims growing up with this mentality of not knowing what we are consuming. Back in the day, people understood just by tasting or in general trying things if they are good or not. Nowadays, we don’t pay attention, it takes a lot of time and personal effort to be able to understand what we consume”, he says.

During our interview, the shop owner offered us products that can be bought from him. We tried delicious dried strawberries and apricots. Figs stuffed with nuts and much more. I fully trust the products sold in this store, and I will be happy to shop there. For all those interested, the address of the store: Vatikioti 24, Athonos square

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