Written by Grove Collaborative

What is greenwashing & how do you avoid companies guilty of it?

Last Updated: June 16, 2021

Make better choices when shopping for food, beauty, and cleaning products by learning about greenwashing and the steps you can take to actively avoid it from Grove Sustainability Expert Alexandra Bede.

With a growing focus on making green choices and supporting environmentally friendly companies, there's an incredible demand to modify formulas to make them safer for yourself and the Earth as a whole. Unfortunately, many companies are trying to jump on the sustainability bandwagon by making stronger claims than they’re able to back up.


When considering your environmental impact and making healthier choices, it's imperative to understand what greenwashing is and to do the research necessary to find companies and products you can trust.

What is Grove Collaborative?


At Grove, we take the guesswork out of which products are good for you and your home. Every product meets strict standards for being nontoxic, effective, sustainable, and cruelty-free. Once you find products you love, we ship to your home on a flexible, monthly schedule.


Looking for more cleaning how-tos and other sustainable swaps you can make at home? Grove has you covered with our buying and cleaning guides. And let us know how if you have any cleaning questions (or share your own tips using #grovehome) by following Grove Collaborative on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest.

If you're ready to make the transition to natural cleaning products, shop Grove Collaborative's cleaning essentials or natural beauty products to start shopping healthier products for you and the environment.

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So what is greenwashing?

Greenwashing” is a term that refers to environmentalist concern about economic impact, sustainability, and environmental benefit information that a brand or product has advertised that’s misleading or exaggerated.


Because "green" has become a growing industry, PR and marketing firms will oversell the eco-angle of a product to help capture well-intentioned consumers. They convince people they're buying something sustainable and environmentally friendly, but the company doesn't have the proof to back up their claims.

What are examples of greenwashing?

Where is greenwashing the most prevalent? There are a variety of industries that are experiencing a focus on safe ingredients and eco-friendly business practices, including:

Food

We want everything we put into our bodies to be as healthy as possible, hence the popularity of organic foods. In an effort to avoid preservatives, some food companies have started to make misleading claims about the health of their prepared treats.

Beauty

Your skin is your largest organ, so it’s important to protect your body from absorbing toxins by shopping for healthier beauty products. Unfortunately, a lot of foundations, lipsticks, lotions, and other beauty products claim to be free of harmful ingredients without evidence to support the claim.

Cleaning

The cleaning products you use in your home sometimes come in contact with your skin and mix with the air you breathe. However, finding products that are safe to touch and breathe can be tricky since greenwashing is seen across many different products in the cleaning industry.


Words like “all-natural,” “natural,” and “organic” tend to be overused without proper certification. Read on to learn more trigger words used in greenwashing.

Is greenwashing legal?

This is where things get a little tricky. While the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is in place to help protect consumers from deceptive or unfair business practices, many of the statements made in these marketing materials remain vague enough that companies can get away without telling the whole truth.


The idea is that they use trigger words generally associated with sustainability to help consumers think they're making a conscious choice without making firm claims the FTC will challenge them on.

Is greenwashing really that bad?

While it may not technically be illegal, greenwashing is still bad business practice because it tricks consumers into thinking they're getting a healthier or more eco-friendly product than they really are. Sometimes these companies price the item as if it meets those more rigid environmental claims too.

Trigger words to look for in greenwashing

So how can you tell whether or not the products you're considering are the real sustainable and natural deal?


Alexandra Bede, Senior Manager of Sustainability at Grove, says "Buzzwords about recycling and composting can cause consumer confusion and are a major driver of our waste problem. If left unaddressed, it can threaten our environmental progress."


Learn more about some of these confusing and generalized terms that should start to signal your greenwashing radar as you shop:


Nontoxic

This is an incredibly prevalent term, but when it comes down to it, most ingredients have some level of toxicity when enough is used.


When you see the term nontoxic, it doesn't necessarily mean the product is truly free of toxins. Look for specific percentages, testing result information, and ingredients to see if you know what each of the ingredients are (i.e., no chemical-sounding ingredients).


Free of

Many companies make claims that a product is “free of” certain ingredients, which may not have ever been intended ingredients of the product in the first place. Unless they do regular testing for trace amounts of these ingredients, these claims could be misleading. Read up on any bad ingredients in the product you are buying and then check the ingredient list of what you want to buy to be sure it’s truly “free of” those things.


All-natural

This term is thrown around all the time, but it doesn't actually mean much. There are plenty of naturally occurring ingredients that are harmful to both you and the environment.


“All-natural” is actually starting to be a regulated term, and companies are getting sued if they use it incorrectly. However, it’s still around without proper certification on websites so be careful and look up their certifications before you buy.


Chemical-free

Chemicals are all around us, even in naturally occurring ingredients. Typically, this term means no pure chemicals are added to the products. Instead of looking for a chemical-free product, look for a product that is on the Made Safe Hazard List.


Clean

Clean is one of the most ambiguous terms you'll find because it doesn't mean any one particular thing. Generally, it means that the product steers clear of notoriously bad ingredients, such as parabens. Pay attention to the full list of ingredients for more specific information.


Biodegradable

When you see that something is biodegradable, you picture it decomposing in landfills, but that isn't actually the case. A lot of products sit in landfills for years before breaking down.


Additionally, just because something is biodegradable doesn't mean that chemicals, dyes, and other harmful ingredients weren't used to make it. As the item decomposes, those harsh ingredients drain into the soil and carbon releases into the atmosphere.


Green

This term is generally thrown around when the product is made using other recycled products. It’s much more informative to look at what percentage of the item is crafted of recycled materials.

How do you know if a company is greenwashing?

Now that you’re officially on the lookout for greenwashing, how do you ensure you're buying safe, environmentally friendly, responsibly sourced products?


Here are a few steps you can take to double-check a product's claims:

Check the label

Truly green products want to show off any certifications or special designations. Check out the tags and look for certifications, material content, and other verbiage that will indicate the ways in which the product is sustainable or environmentally friendly. Certifications include “cruelty-free,” “Safer Choice,” “EWG,” and “B Corporation.”


While you're looking, take a peek at the included ingredients to make sure there aren't any harmful or synthetic elements lurking in there.

Look up the website

When you want to know more about a product or a company, visit their website, especially the about page or any sustainability pages they offer.


Most truly green companies will offer ample information about the different ways in which they're implementing eco-friendly business practices.

Watch for specifics

When a company has actual proof of their claims, they’re more than happy to share them with you. As you learn more about the product, look for specific facts and figures and special certifications or awards. GREENGUARD, Energy Star, USDA Organic, LEED, Leaping Bunny, and FAIRTRADE certifications are just a few of the popular terms you may notice as you shop.

What about Grove Collaborative? Do they greenwash?

Because Grove Collaborative sells items that do fall into the natural, green, organic, and clean categories, these terms tend to be used on the website and in the product descriptions. So, is Grove Collaborative greenwashing?


Well, you’ve done your job because you were triggered by the use of those words we mentioned above. However, Grove (and other companies who are not greenwashing) actually provide backup to their claims of organic, green, and eco-friendly products.


Fortunately, Grove has also done the hard work for you, rigorously vetting all the brands they carry to ensure the beauty, cleaning, and health products offered stack up to the standards you've set for your home. Many companies are B Corporations, like Grove, actively doing the work to create better consumer products for the environment and helping to reduce and combat any waste or pollution current products are creating.


Alexandra Bede, Senior Manager of Sustainability at Grove says "Grove's plastic neutrality is a significant resource commitment, but it is also important we are prioritizing and investing in the product development of plastic-reducing and plastic-free products. We need to ensure we are not polluting plastic into the environment in the first place. Grove's mission is to partner with and guide other mission-aligned brands. We feel it is our responsibility to educate and challenge our customers, brands, and industry towards a more plastic-free future."


“Plastic offsets are controversial — brands use this to justify continued plastic production, but they are not getting to the root problem of making products less single-use or part of a circular economy (not into landfills, garbage bins, etc.). Offsets aren’t the end all, be all solution to the plastic crisis. We [at Grove] want to find innovative ways to curate and create products that don’t have plastic to begin with.”


Acknowledging the work that has been done and can still be done is a good quality of a brand that’s not greenwashing. Claiming to be done with the work of creating environmentally friendly products and doing the best things (like plastic offsets) without knowing the true facts about offsets is how some companies greenwash their eco-friendly plastic initiatives.


Read up on companies' plastic claims and commitments (Grove even has a plastic scorecard that is publicly available). Companies that are truly trying to make a change will advertise any of the work and be real about what still has to be done.


Anytime you're looking to go green, consider that less is more. Once you find a brand and product you trust, look for plastic-free products that use reusable containers, such as glass bottles, and refill the product with concentrates and low-waste replacements.

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