Cleaning up sustainability: an insight into greenwashing
The world of sustainability is a daunting one; it seems so bright and beautiful at first, filled with green imagery and the promise of "doing our bit". However, it's not all rainbows and butterflies. Companies are lying to our faces to convince us that their product is the best sustainable alternative out there. Is there a name for this phenomenon?
Coined in 1986 by environmentalist Jay Westerveld, the term "greenwashing" originates from the beach resort industry, which asked visitors to reuse their towels to make their laundry process "greener". This effort to appear environmentally friendly masked the fact that the resort was expanding at an unsustainable rate; taking over the local area, destroying climates and increasing levels of carbon emissions.
Fast-forward 40 years and it's not just the resort industry that is using and abusing ethical practices in the name of greenwashing. It's a massive issue in almost every area- clothes, food, travel, beauty, you name it.
But perhaps let's take a little look into one particular company and see how their ethics add up.
Love Beauty and Planet
First impressions are fantastic. Beautiful positive name, hyping me up to believe I can look gorgeous and save the planet at the same time—what a win-win situation. I'm hooked. This, combined with the fancy font, pretty pastel pink and the promise that it's vegan has me sold. This company must be good, surely?
On the surface of it, it seems optimistic. I even google the company to see if they've got any further information on their website. Like a kid in a candy store, I am given five brand ethics with suitably catchy titles:
Now if you're anything like me, these feel-good buzz words have me absolutely on board before I've read any further. I'm off to shampoo my hair in aromas of coconut and climate justice…
One of the key sustainable aspects this company expand on when it comes to their products is the use of "naturally derived" ingredients- an enticing image filled with flowering meadows and chirping birds. Unfortunately, "naturally derived" is one of the most overused words in greenwashing. This description literally means at one point or another, the ingredient was a plant. Taking this out of context, does this make crisps and wine healthy? Sadly not. "Naturally derived" doesn't consider the extent of the processing that happens before the key ingredient is ready for use, so it's unclear whether LBP is greenwashing us here, because the term itself is ambiguous.
But hey, at least the ingredients are organic right?
Sadly, in the wider beauty industry, there is significant lenience when it comes to what defines as "organic" or not. A recent report by the Soil Association shows just how "organic" is used and abused by a variety of companies who use the word without any official certifications, indicating that we are being misled and exploited in our quest for sustainable beauty. This is distressing not just on a broader environmental level, but also on a personal one too. Lathering on a product which appears to be all-natural and wonderful, only to be full of synthesised chemicals and lies doesn't do favours for anyone's complexion.
Moving from ingredients to packaging, the confusion continues. Whilst LBP claim to use 100% post-consumer recycled plastic, which is great, and something that all companies should be implementing, a little digging uncovers that their parent company is Unilever- one of the biggest plastic polluters in the world. Are the efforts that this smaller company are making being reversed by one of world's worst offenders? The evidence is unclear and that's something only the consumer can decide.
However, the fact of the matter is, the more we buy blindly into false and uncertain sustainability, the bigger the market gets and the more profit companies make. However, it's important to remember that we as consumers have the power; every pound we spend is a vote to shape our planet. So spend your money wisely and do your research before buying, even if it seems daunting at first. Some key things to look out for are official organic accreditations, ingredient names you can almost always pronounce (check this out if you need a hand) and often smaller independent companies which are completely transparent about their entire manufacturing process.
It may seem like a small and insignificant step in the scheme of things, but every action taken to a more sustainable life is a worthy one. It creates part of a wider impact that will shape the planet and shape our future.