Editorial | Greenwashing is dangerous

By The Pitt News Editorial Board

Fireball Whisky customers are suing the company who distributes the alcohol for misleading them by filling the whisky bottles with malt liquor. While this was a minor case, Fireball is not the only company to use misleading packaging, and oftentimes they’re selling you more than just a cheaper product. Many companies try to look responsible — and get you to buy their product — through greenwashing.

Greenwashing, the act of misleading consumers to buy products because they look like they are environmentally friendly despite having a negative impact on the environment, is a common phenomenon with real consequences for our planet. Creating packaging that falsely advertises a product as environmentally friendly should not sit on our shelves.

Companies such as Walmart and Kohl’s have marketed products as bamboo when they really were rayon textile products, and were then rightfully sued by the Federal Trade Commission. Rayon, also known as viscose, is one of the worst fabrics for the environment, as the process to produce it uses mass amounts of water and chemicals and releases chemicals into the air we breathe. It’s upsetting to consumers who are actively trying to use more sustainable materials such as bamboo to contribute to environmental degradation unknowingly. It’s even worse that the companies involved are exploiting people who are trying to help the Earth.

The fashion industry, especially, is one of the worst industries for our planet — 10% of our global carbon dioxide output comes from the fashion industry. Many companies that fall into the fast fashion category are notorious for greenwashing, such as Shein and Boohoo. These companies already have negative connotations when it comes to their environmental impacts, so they mislead the public. They are trying to show that they are becoming more eco-friendly, but it’s all in the name of retaining consumers rather than helping the Earth because they care. Rather than actually making an effort to help the environment, they are trying to appeal to a market that cares so much about the environment.

Clothes are not the only way in which greenwashing can affect consumers. Food is another area in which consumers can fall into the trappings of false advertising. Any food brand can slap on the label of “organic” or “made with real ingredients.” However, this doesn’t always mean they are environmentally conscious. These companies can still use harmful processes like factory farming because there is no one definition of real ingredients.

Despite misleading advertisements and packaging, there are a few ways to spot greenwashing. While the main thing consumers want is for companies to actually share the burden of thinking consciously about the environment, there are a few ways to spot it. Vague labeling such as saying the packaging is “eco-friendly” or that their brand is “sustainable” rather than saying whether you can actually recycle it or what sustainable materials it is made of are a few indicators. It’s also always important to look at ingredients in food and search if a company has gotten in trouble for using greenwashing tactics in the past.

Greenwashing is bad for our environment, and consumers should have environmentally friendly options that are actually good for the Earth, not just ones that say that they are. Our environment deserves better.