Greenwashing vs sustainability, how to differentiate between them?
Nowadays it seems to be trendy to be eco-friendly or green. Suddenly, many important companies are fighting to be part of this movement by portraying themselves as green and promoting actions that supposedly help the environment, but that doesn’t mean they actually are. It is important to identify when a product or a project is sustainable or whether it’s just part of the greenwashing phenomenon. Before going further, it is important to understand the difference between these two terms. Sustainability is defined as an economic activity that meets the need of the present generation without compromising future generations, and it has economic, social and environmental perspectives. On the other hand, greenwashing is the practice of making a misleading claim about the environmental benefits of a product, service, technology or company practice. On the outside, these two look very similar but it doesn’t take much to discover what is sustainable and what is not.
In Singapore, there are regulations that help avoid greenwashing such as the green mark which is a label given by the Singapore Environment Council which certifies the claims on the label of a product. Sadly, some companies still advertise being “green” without the mark by adding their own green label with vague phrases such as “eco-friendly” or “organic” without any real evidence that this is true. And because customers don’t really know the difference between a certified product and one that is not, all the work behind NGO’s and the government goes to waste.
Greenwashing culture is everywhere. An example is Malaysian Palm Oil which has the tagline “Sustainably Produced Since 1917” advertised on many of their products when in real life this company has been prosecuted for destroying rainforest ecosystems which contain unique habitats and species such as orangutan for the palm oil plantation. Another example is Fiji water which claims to recycle and buy carbon offsets when in reality, with the plastic used in each bottle and the transportation for their whole world distribution, their total carbon footprint is huge.
So how to not be part of the greenwashing culture? First of all, it is very important to know who to trust. The Singapore Environment Council is a reliable source in terms of knowing if a product actually is sustainable, you just need to know what the green mark looks like. An easy way to identify greenwashing is simply by questioning false and misleading labels such as “100% organic” or “certified” or vague statements, this can be easily corroborated by reading the back part of a product and if there is no actual proof, then you know. Another important thing to do is do research on the company you are buying products of, as with the Malaysian Palm Oil, even if it claims to be if you investigate a little bit you can judge if the production process and resources used are being managed correctly. The good intention is not enough to make a change, next time consume responsibly and avoid greenwashing.