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How to spot ‘Greenwashing’

How to spot Greenwashing (and other deceptive practices).

How to spot Greenwashing - www.flowerorganics.com.au

Have you ever seen a company marketing their product on TV with happy people, overlooking a pristine ocean, with a motto ‘We Care’ (for example), but when you take a look at their environmental credentials, you learn they are responsible for major land clearing and polluting pristine waterways?

This is Greenwashing – the practice of conveying an image of caring about our Earth, while really not giving a sh@t! A nasty, deceptive and immoral practice, to say the least.

We liken this to Healthwashing (not sure there is such a term, but now there is!). Again, a good example would be a gluten-free product with a big ‘high fibre’ claim on the front. But flip the pack over, and you would be lucky to be able to pronounce the list of 20 ingredients on the back and can even sometimes find ingredients like maltodextrin  or caramel-flavouring listed, which typically are derived from wheat (unless otherwise indicated). Not only is this last example deceptive, but downright dangerous for someone with coeliac disease. 

Here are some more examples of Healthwashing we’ve spotted (and we pre-screen for this in our online store so you don’t have to):

  • A ‘natural’ deodorant which contains toxic ingredients like PEG (Polyethylene glycol), but has a beautiful scent and very clean and natural looking packaging and brand name.
  • A laundry detergent with ‘Added Essential Oils’ which comprise 0.02% of the product (and there isn’t even a complete list of ingredients to check through – only ‘Active Ingredients’ listed (avoid like ‘the plague’ is our advice!).
  • A breakfast cereal ‘fortified’ with iron, with a government 4 health star rating, but the ingredient list is primarily wheat, sugar and other ‘fillers’.

And the list goes on and on… and on.

Even nutritional grids claiming health benefits cannot be solely relied upon to safe-guard your health – YOU need to be your own detective when it comes to what goes into, on or around your body!

The short of it is, the only way to protect yourself from greenwashing, healthwashing or any other type of marketing ‘spin’ is to educate yourself on how ingredient labels work and learn to read the fine print that the marketers are hoping you won’t see. As a rule of thumb, ignore the front label and turn to the back of the pack for every product! But sometimes even that isn’t enough to make an informed and safe decision.

One of our favourite resources for checking on ingredients in personal care products, cosmetics and cleaning products is to take each ingredient name and enter it into the Environmental Working Group (EWG) database. Yes, it can be time-consuming, but by doing this you can examine scientific data that already exists for each ingredient to determine whether it is likely a harmful ingredient, or one where data exists to support its safety and therefore your family’s safety.

Another tip: once you’ve looked at the individual ingredients, make sure you look at the order in which the ingredients are listed. The higher up in the list the ingredient is, the more of it there is in the product. For example, if you see a product that claims to be coconut milk, but it’s first ingredient is water, then there is more water than coconut milk in the product (and you should put it down as it is instantly not what it seems to be – unless you like paying for water, packaging and freight!). The first three ingredients are generally what the product mostly contains, so if you don’t see the ingredient that is claimed to be the main ingredient in the first three, you can be sure you are again being deceived. 

We would like to finish with some words marketers just love, but you should be wary of (they are good ‘warning signs’):

  • Natural – which just means at some point, the product started with something natural;
  • Organic – which just means that the product just has to be carbon-based (certified organic is a very different deal, which you can read more about here);
  • No Added Sugar – which just means they didn’t have to add sugar, as the ingredients they used were already high in sugar. Additionally, it could mean that unhealthy sugar substitutes were used instead;
  • Fortified – means that the vitamins, minerals or supplements they are claiming the product has were added to the product. Often this will mean it is an artificial source of that supplement or it may not be bioavailable in that format;
  • Gluten-free – can sometimes still include additives which contain gluten like maltodextrin (usually from corn but can be from wheat), malt, glucose (can be derived from wheat), Vitamin E / Tocopheryls (can be derived from wheat germ), Natural Flavours (can be derived from barley) and Hydrolized Vegetable Protein.

And there are so many more (in fact, we’ll keep adding to this article in future as we find examples)!

Whatever you do, don’t ignore that inner warning you feel in your gut – if something seems too good to be true, that’s because it usually is. Your disbelief is the first step towards debunking any false claim and will ensure you don’t just trust that pretty label or the amazing claim that makes you feel less guilty for eating a whole box of your favourite snack food!

And if all else fails, our online store breaks down the credentials of everything we offer – shop there safely! 😉

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