By Jessica Welch • A version of this article was originally
published by Annmarie
Greenwashing is the food and beauty industries’ form of
Companies of all sizes use greenwashing to trick
consumers through creative branding into believing they are choosing healthier
and more eco-friendly options.
By using specific phrases, like “all-natural” or
“sustainably produced,” and visuals associated with health and nature,
companies give the impression they are more environmentally friendly and
healthier than they truly are.
Does This Sound Familiar?
It can be as simple as designing a bag of potato chips with
a farm scene to imply freshness. Or it can be more convoluted.
Frito-Lay chip company tried to play into the health kick of
the last decade, but because their product is inherently unhealthy, they
resorted to greenwashing.
If you compare the Natural Lay’s Potato Chips to the Classic
Lays Potato Chips, the “natural” product gives the appearance of being
Don’t Let Earthy Packaging Fool You
Frito-Lay opted for earth tones on the
environmentally-friendly looking packaging and emphasized “natural” on the
However, the only difference between the two, besides the
thickness of the chip, is that the natural chips use a different type of oil
and salt. There is no difference between the grams of fat and the number of
Different types of oil and salt were enough for a complete
rebranding that led consumers to believe they were making a healthier choice.
Is Greenwashing Allowed?
Unfortunately, yes. The worst part is everything the
companies are doing is legal.
When it comes to what you’re buying, it’s up to you the
consumer to stay informed and do the research.
How to Identify Greenwashing
Nobody wants to have to do homework before going grocery
shopping. But these steps will help you understand what to look for when it
comes to greenwashing.
1. Bypass the Packaging and Read the Label
Don’t be fooled by pictures of fruit, farms or any other faux-branding.
There are no regulations on the images a company can use on their packaging.
Even though you’re buying a bag of fried potatoes, the image
on the packaging of fresh vegetables being pulled from the earth by a burly
farmer can easily convince consumers they’re making a healthy choice.
2. Beware of Branding
Another deceitful trick of greenwashing is using earth tones
to connote an all-natural vibe. Since the new era of consumers has shown a
clear interest in health, brands have begun producing packaging with more
greens, browns, and blues, and avoiding bright, flashy, and unnatural colors.
Once again, the visual does not necessarily represent the
food. The only way to tell if food is truly healthy (whatever your
definition of healthy may be) is to READ THE LABEL.
3. Look for Proof of Green Practices
Look for proof that your products are healthy. Products that
are actually healthier and more sustainable will flaunt their certifications,
so it shouldn’t be hard to find.
Some trustworthy seals to look for on your products are:
U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) organic
certification: USDA certification is a reliable source due to their
regulations and rules that govern how a product is made from growth to
Green Seal: Green Seal is an eco-friendly
nonprofit that develops standards for companies to comply with to be
labeled environmentally friendly.
Non-GMO Project Verified: The Non-GMO Project
is not yet the official certification for identifying non-GMO products,
but right now it’s the leading verification. Since genetically modified
organisms are a newer concept, there is no official certification yet. The
Non-GMO Project is a difficult seal to attain because it requires
absolutely no GMO’s down to the cow, plants, and seeds.
Why You Should Be Wary of the Tested Green Seal
A few years back, the U.S. Federal Trade Commision targeted
Tested Green when they discovered companies were buying the Tested Green label
for $200 to $500.
4. Stop Trusting the Slogans
A company cannot claim to be “all-natural” if it is
blatantly adding chemicals to its products. But there are many ways for
“all-natural” brands to side-step the loose vernacular. Since the FDAdoesn’t regulate the term “all-natural,” there
are no official rules or regulations around the slogan.
Often, companies will use ingredients with compounds derived
from plants mixed with synthesized compounds. The only way to truly
know if a product is all-natural is by checking the ingredients and researching
anything you’re not familiar with.
5. Know What Being Green Really Means
Labels and certifications can refer to a number of different
aspects of a product. There is a wide spectrum of practices that go into food
production. Does “sustainably produced” mean a commitment to minimal packaging,
farming practices, or efficient manufacturing?