Greenwashing refers to the practice of companies making misleading claims about the environmental benefits or sustainability of their products and operations. As consumers become more environmentally conscious, some brands use greenwashing tactics to appeal to this growing market. While greenwashing is not illegal, it is unethical and can be hard for consumers to recognize. By reporting incidences of potential greenwashing, we can hold companies accountable and push for more transparency.
The first step is learning how to identify greenwashing. Here are some common greenwashing tactics to look out for:
Vague claims – Using broad, feel-good language like “eco-friendly” or “natural” without evidence or specifics.
Imagery – Using nature imagery, green colors, or certifications to imply sustainability without justification.
Irrelevant claims – Highlighting one “green” practice while ignoring larger unsustainable practices. E.g. touting recyclable packaging but not addressing greenhouse gas emissions.
False labels – Using self-made certifications or fake labels like “non-toxic” instead of verified logos.
Lack of proof – Making claims without providing evidence, certification, or transparency about practices.
When in doubt, research brands thoroughly and ask questions to understand their full impact. Beware of vague claims that seem too good to be true.
Reporting Suspected Greenwashing
If you suspect greenwashing, here are some ways to report it:
Federal Trade Commission
The FTC protects consumers and regulates false advertising in the United States. File a complaint with the FTC online or by phone if a company is making deceptive green claims. The FTC can investigate and take legal action if necessary.
If a brand misuses a recognized ecolabel certification like Energy Star without meeting standards, report it to the certifying body. They can rescind certification and address misrepresentation.
Advertising Self-Regulatory Councils
Industry groups like the National Advertising Division investigate misleading ads. File a complaint to challenge suspect green marketing practices. They can push for ads to be modified or withdrawn.
Post on the brand’s social channels asking for clarity on vague claims. Tag regulatory bodies asking them to investigate. Raise awareness of potential greenwashing among other consumers.
Reputable news outlets like the New York Times often report on incidents of greenwashing after consumer complaints. Consider pitching a story to draw wider attention to dubious sustainability claims.
Environmental groups like Greenpeace have staff dedicated to identifying greenwashing. They can amplify concerns to apply pressure on brands engaging in questionable marketing.
Pushing for Transparency
Beyond reporting individual cases of greenwashing, we need to advocate for systemic change:
Ask brands direct questions about their practices via email or social media. Push them to substantiate any sustainability claims with specifics.
Demand independent verification like third-party auditing and transparency reports to back up claims. Rely more on concrete certifications like B Corp over vague claims.
Support mandatory climate risk disclosure so all large companies must report emissions and environmental impact. This enables accountability.
Push for FTC regulations on sustainability marketing claims to standardize rules companies must follow. Clear guidelines can help curb deception.
Buy from transparent brands that provide detailed impact reporting. Reward good corporate behavior.
With increased consumer pressure, companies will be motivated to accurately communicate their environmental progress instead of relying on greenwashing. We all have power to drive positive change through the brands we support and hold accountable.