How to Avoid the Latest Eco-Gimmicks That Don’t Actually Help the Planet

How to Avoid the Latest Eco-Gimmicks That Don’t Actually Help the Planet


With climate change and environmental sustainability being major concerns, more and more companies are using “greenwashing” to make eco-friendly claims about their products and services. While some of these are valid, others are little more than gimmicks giving the illusion of environmental benefit. As conscious consumers, we need to be able to identify and avoid these eco-gimmicks so we can make purchases that genuinely help the planet.

Questionable Eco-Labels

There are many eco-labels out there, some trustworthy and some not. Here are a few to be wary of:

“Greenwashing” Labels

  • Self-declared labels: These lack third-party certification and may be meaningless.
  • “Greenleaf” labels: Random images like leaves don’t signify eco-credibility.
  • Vague claims: Terms like “eco-safe” and “earth-friendly” are broad and unverified.

Legitimate but Limited Labels

  • Non-GMO: Doesn’t account for other practices like pesticides.
  • Organic: Good standard but focuses on one farming practice.
  • Rainforest Alliance: Mainly ensures fair labor practices, not wider environmental impact.

The most credible eco-labels are detailed, third-party verified ones like Fair Trade Certified.

Misleading Product Claims

Many product claims prey on consumer concern about the environment while diverting attention from larger issues. Be mindful of these distracting gimmicks:

Minor Tweaks, Not Fundamental Change

  • “Now with less packaging!”: Ignores wider lifecycle and pollution impacts.
  • “Eco-friendly formula!”: Focusing on one ingredient while others remain harmful.
  • “Refillable/Reusable!”: Should be the norm, not a selling point.

Vague, Feel-Good Claims

  • “Made with natural ingredients”: Says nothing about sustainability.
  • “Responsibly sourced”: Undefined and unverified claim.
  • “Committed to sustainability”: Too broad to have meaning.

Motive-Questionable “Cause Marketing”

  • Token donations to environmental causes: A diversion from overall impact.
  • Cause-related product variants: Main product line remains polluting.

Fundamental, verified change is needed, not minor tweaks for marketing.

“Green” Products That Aren’t Really Green

Many products promote themselves as eco-friendly using misleading claims. Here are some to treat with skepticism:

Bamboo and Wood Products

  • Often made with adhesives containing VOCs (volatile organic compounds).
  • Shipping from Asia has a huge carbon footprint.
  • May promote unsustainable deforestation.

Corn Plastic Packaging

  • Producing corn has heavy environmental impacts from fertilizers and pesticides.
  • Takes resources to convert corn to plastic.
  • Non-biodegradable in regular landfills.

Cleaning Products with Plant Extracts

  • Usually only small amounts of plant extracts for marketing.
  • Still rely heavily on synthetic chemicals.
  • Can still contain carcinogens and hormone disruptors.

“Natural” Cosmetics and Toiletries

  • No legal definition of “natural” in this context.
  • Can still contain harmful ingredients like parabens and phthalates.
  • “Natural” doesn’t automatically mean safer or eco-friendly.

Scrutinize all ingredient info and third-party verifications, not just front-label claims.

Sustainability Trends to Avoid

Some popular sustainability trends don’t hold up under closer inspection:

Wasteful Recycling Initiatives

  • Plastic bag/bottles to fashion: Still releases microplastics when washed.
  • Upcycled goods: Energy-intensive process, limited durability. Disposability unchanged.

Performative Sustainability

  • Plastic-wrapped organic produce: Counterproductive.
  • “Eco-tourism” requiring long flights: Huge carbon footprint.
  • City roof gardens: Minimal ecological benefit. Mainly PR moves.

Passing Responsibility

  • Carbon offsets: Allow continued consumption while assuaging guilt.
  • Leave no trace/pack in-pack out: Superficially cleans up after damage is done.
  • Bio degradeable packaging: Still enters ecosystems and requires resources to produce.

True sustainability requires changing our consumption model itself.

Making Truly Eco-Friendly Purchases

Here are some tips for meaningful environmentalism with our purchases:

  • Check certifications like Fair Trade, FSC Forestry, RSPO Palm Oil, etc.
  • Understand supply chains: Locally produced, low-processing and packaging, sustainable materials.
  • See through marginal improvements. Make companies ambitious.
  • Avoid waste entirely when possible: Unpackaged, reusable, durable options.
  • Consume less, reuse and recycle as much as possible.
  • Support companies driving fundamental change, not temporary fads.

We vote with our wallets. Being informed consumers allows us to guide companies toward real sustainability, not just clever greenwashing. With mindfulness of labels, claims and supply chains, we can avoid eco-gimmicks and make purchases that genuinely benefit the planet.