“Greenwashing” is rife among online retailers, according to a new study.
Greenwashing happens when companies make false or exaggerated claims about the environmental impact of their products. Although some businesses invest in sustainability, many others inflate their eco-friendly credentials to win over consumers.
The study, conducted by the European Union and national consumer protection agencies, looked at 344 “seemingly dubious” environmental and sustainability claims made by e-commerce sites. Most of these sites were in the clothing and textiles, beauty and wellness, and household equipment sectors.
42% of these claims were false or deceptive, according to the study. Some may have even violated E.U. law.
The most common problem on these sites was lack of information. Most retailers failed to substantiate their claims or provide consumers with enough detail to verify them themselves.
Johnny White, a lawyer at the environmental law charity ClientEarth, noted that the problem extends beyond the consumer goods sector. The fossil fuel industry, for example, invests enormous amounts of money in what he called “reputational advertising,” using sing feel-good environmental messaging as a cover for their environmentally destructive practices.
Some consumers and politicians are savvy to the greenwashing con. For instance, Representative Ilhan Omar (D-MN) recently used a popular meme from the Netflix sketch comedy show I Think You Should Leave to highlight the hypocrisy of an Exxon Mobile tweet about its commitment to fighting climate change.
— Ilhan Omar (@IlhanMN) December 4, 2020
But unless regulators do a better job at policing greenwashing, many will continue to be duped by disingenuous corporate advertisements and social media posts.
Thankfully, the E.U. will consider legislation later this year to address the problem. If approved, companies would need to meet set standards to call themselves sustainable. Lawmakers would also require them to provide consumers with enough information to verify their environmental claims.
Source: NowThis Earth/YouTube
For now, there are several online resources shoppers can turn to to help them identify ethical brands. These include sites like Ethical Consumer and The Good Shopping Guide. Another site, The Green Stars Project, relies on user-generated ethical reviews, which it argues are more comprehensive and democratic than traditional online guides.
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