In 2021, a report found that sustainability is a crucial consideration for 32% of consumers, influenced by greater awareness of climate change and knowledge of its impact. With this in mind, it’s not surprising that thousands of brands adapt their marketing to suit the trend. The question is, are these strategies always honest?
According to sustainability and advertising experts, the answer is no – demonstrated by the unique phenomenon of greenwashing.
In today’s article, we’re going to explain everything you need to know about the trend, including what it is and how you can avoid falling for it.
Let’s dive in!
What Is Greenwashing?
While definitions vary online, Cambridge Dictionary offers a simple yet succinct approach to the problem: greenwashing is an attempt by companies to make people believe they are doing more to protect the environment than they actually are.
This can manifest itself in various ways and occurs across multiple industries, primarily in the food, fashion and beauty industries. Greenwashing implements a unique set of strategies in order to trick eco-conscious consumers, mainly achieved through advertising and packaging.
Greenwashing in the Food Industry
One of the biggest culprits of greenwashing is the food industry, and it’s no surprise why. In less than a decade, veganism has soared in popularity, increasing by up to 500%.
Anxiety surrounding the climate crisis, fuelled by cruel practices in the meat and dairy industries, is felt by 75% of young people. Pair those stats with the growing desire to live healthier lifestyles, and we’ve got ourselves a recipe for disaster for traditional food brands.
So, what’s the solution? Well, instead of actually making positive changes by improving processes and sourcing more organic ingredients, brands are duping consumers instead.
Colours, phrases and logos can all be updated with a view to greenwash the appearance of what was once recognized as unhealthy or environmentally damaging.
For example, a bag of crisps soaked in saturated fats could easily rebrand as a ‘natural’ product in green packaging simply because potatoes were used to create them. While stringent shoppers might find this easy to spot, those who are less informed are likely to believe in the myth and purchase under false pretences.
How Can You Avoid Greenwashing as a Consumer?
Ignore Packaging, Read Labels
The first step to avoiding food industry greenwashing is probably one of the hardest to achieve, but establishing this habit now will make you a savvy shopper in future. When you’re browsing the shelves of your local grocery store, it’s easy to get pulled in by pastel-packaging, modern graphics and bold slogans – but what do they really represent?
Instead of relying on green packets or claims of natural goodness, take a closer look at the listed ingredients. Manufacturers have to abide by full transparency by law, so this is the best place to find out precisely what you’re eating.
Research Green Practices
If your favourite brand alludes to its status as organic, it’s a good idea to check that these claims have substance. In 2008, the Competition Bureau of Canada – an independent law enforcement agency – published a set of guidelines for environmental claims in advertisements. This requires manufacturers to avoid vague or misleading language and include verifiable and specific information to back up their claims.
If your food packaging promises big things when it comes to their natural content but supplies no official certifications, it’s probably a prime example of greenwashing. Get to know the laws in your country and make sure you keep them in mind while shopping.
Remain Cautious of Eco-Slogans
One of the most common greenwashing tools used in both packaging and advertising is to harness slogans that suggest products are more eco-friendly than they actually are. Examples include ‘good for the heart’ or ‘kind to the earth.’ Phrases like this are specifically designed to target eco-conscious consumers – people who care about their health and the protection of the planet.
While greenwashing is officially illegal in Canada, this behaviour can’t be persecuted because the brands only imply what their product can do without explicitly saying it.
If you notice this on your potential food options, take a closer look at the label and make sure those claims are supported by what’s inside.
Get Familiar With Sustainability
If you’re worried about the planet and the impact of the food industry, one of the best ways to overcome your climate anxiety is to get educated so you can shop with a sharper eye. This isn’t just limited to slogan-spotting or packaging analysis either – it’s all about understanding where your food comes from, how it’s made and how green it really is.
With a food waste crisis burgeoning on and carbon polluting our atmosphere, it’s essential to consider what shopping with a greener mindset looks like. Instead of just searching for the healthiest or most environmentally friendly products at the store, you can start making smarter choices altogether.
Some of the ways you can mitigate your impact include:
- Eating a plant-based diet or opting for vegan options where possible
- Limiting your intake of red meats if you prefer to remain omnivorous
- Shopping fresh and local while avoiding plastic-heavy packaging
- Cooking from scratch, so you know exactly what’s in your food and recycling your scraps with a FoodCycler or compost heap
That concludes our quick dive into the world of greenwashing. As an eco-conscious consumer, we hope this guide delivers some insight into how you can shop with purpose and avoid the tricks of the trade.
We’re passionate about making healthier and greener choices easy and accessible. If you’re interested in learning more about living a sustainable lifestyle and the ongoing food waste crisis, head to the FoodCycler blog today for more key insights.
A Note on Terminology
The FoodCycler® is a countertop electric food waste recycler that breaks down food scraps through a mechanical process into a dry, lightweight by-product that can be used in gardening applications as a fertilizer. The FoodCycler® and other electric food waste recyclers are not composters, nor do they produce compost or soil as they do not require additional microbes to break down food waste with bacteria. However, the term "electric composter" has been used to describe electric food waste recyclers.