Greenwashing creates false illusions of being environmentally friendly


Clarabel Edlemon

Opinion Editor Jeffrey Dratch writes that greenwashing, the act of making false or misleading statements about the environmental benefits of a product or practice, harms consumers and the environment.

Jeffrey Dratch, Opinion Editor

Climate change is seen by many as one of the world’s most important and pressing problems. Therefore, many companies release products or make policies that seem to help combat this problem and not impact the environment. These seemingly helpful ideas often further contribute to climate change by forcing consumers to purchase products that cause further harm to the environment. Greenwashing puts a significant barrier in place for individuals trying to help lessen their carbon footprint.

Greenwashing, as defined in a 2023 article from the National Resource Defense Council, a non-profit environmental advocacy group, is “the act of making false or misleading statements about the environmental benefits of a product or practice.” This is an extreme problem that is exclusively designed to make companies look good and give consumers a false sense of being environmentally responsible. 

Walking through a big-box retail store, such as Target, it is easy to see greenwashing everywhere. Cleaning products often have refillable bottles, however the refills are put in big plastic bottles and have harmful chemicals in them. One extremely common example of harmful ingredients are sulfates, known to have long term effects causing a decrease in lung function. There is often packaging on products that are designed to emulate wood or glass, but in reality are just single-use plastics. Many items will be blatantly branded with green packaging and use terms such as “clean” or “pure” to give consumers an illusion of being green. However, these terms are completely made up and not vetted products by organizations such as B Corp or the Green Business Bureau, governing boards that certify a product or company as green. 

Companies such as Target or SC Johnson hire consumer psychologists, specialists that study consumer behavior, who work to entice people to purchase products and give them a false illusion of caring for the environment. Target created its private label Everspring brand in 2019 that is described as “Target’s new household essentials owned brand designed with sustainability in mind,” despite having many products with single-use packaging and harmful, unsafe ingredients.

SC Johnson operates its own Method and Mrs. Meyers brands, both claiming to be environmentally conscious. Mrs. Meyers claims to be “made with plant-derived ingredients, essential oils and other thoughtfully formulated ingredients.” However, many of its products use a preservative called methylisothiazolinone which causes skin irritation, eczema and, in some cases, chemical burns, according to the Environmental Protection Agency

Greenwashing isn’t just a problem in consumer products; it can also be seen through false promises made to the greater public. Amazon makes significant advertisements around its pledge to have net-zero carbon emissions by 2040. The company’s CEO, Jeff Bezos, traveled to the COP26 Climate Summit in his private jet, further contributing to carbon emissions and worsening climate change. 400 other high-level executives from many companies, including president Joe Biden, traveled to this conference in their own jets.

Greenwashing is all around us, and it can often be extremely difficult to detect what actually helps or harms the environment. But without doing the proper research to purchase from companies that will truly help consumers lessen their carbon footprint, it will be nearly impossible to combat climate change.