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10 Ways Retailers Mislead Consumers About Sustainability With Greenwashing

According to the National Retail Federation, 80% of U.S. consumers aged 18-34 say they are willing to pay extra for more sustainable products. However, 53% of U.S. consumers think sustainable products cost too much. This discrepancy may lead companies to use people's desire for sustainable products at a cheap price as a marketing ploy.

Some companies might not be as green as they claim. The line between genuinely sustainable practices and marketing strategies that mislead consumers can be a blur. This is commonly called “greenwashing.” To help you navigate this green maze, here are ten ways retailers engage in greenwashing:

1. Vague Sustainability Claims

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Retailers may use vague terms like “eco-friendly” or “green” without providing specific details about their sustainable practices. These broad claims can make it challenging for consumers to determine a product's true environmental impact.

2. Lack of Proof

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Genuine sustainable claims should be backed by evidence. Retailers who fail to provide evidence, such as third-party certifications or audit reports, may be greenwashing their products.

3. Green Product Labels

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Some retailers create their own “green” labels that lack independent verification. These labels can be misleading, as they may not reflect accurate sustainability standards.

4. Unsubstantiated Percentages

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Claims like “made with 100% renewable energy” can be deceptive if the retailer fails to disclose whether this applies to their entire operation or only a small fraction.

5. Irrelevant Eco-Friendly Features

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Retailers sometimes highlight insignificant eco-friendly features, like a tiny percentage of recycled material in packaging, while ignoring more critical aspects of their products' sustainability.

6. Exaggerated Claims

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Retailers may exaggerate their products' environmental benefits, creating unrealistic consumer expectations.

7. Focusing on Minor Improvements

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While small steps towards sustainability are commendable, some retailers emphasize minor improvements without addressing more substantial sustainability issues in their supply chains.

8. Ignoring the Full Lifecycle

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Greenwashing often occurs when companies only consider one aspect of a product's lifecycle, such as the use phase, without accounting for the environmental impact during manufacturing, transportation, and disposal.

9. Perfect Sustainability Claims

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None of us are perfect, and retailers who present their products as “perfectly” sustainable without acknowledging the ongoing journey towards sustainability may mislead consumers who expect perfection.

10. Silent Sustainability Efforts (Greenmuting)

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 On a different yet related note, some companies remain silent about their sustainability efforts to avoid greenwashing allegations, which leaves consumers without the information they need to make informed choices when purchasing sustainable products.

Special thanks to Scot Case, VP of Corporate Social Responsibility and Sustainability at the National Retail Federation, for providing valuable insights and information for this article.

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If you're looking for ways to make your life more eco-friendly, there are simple ways you can shift your habits to be more sustainable.

Author: Alissa Zorn

Title: Trauma-Informed Coach

Expertise: childhood emotional neglect, perfectionism, parenting, journaling, comics, doodling, coaching

Alissa Zorn is the founder of OverthoughtThis.com. She's a trauma-informed coach and cartoonist passionate about helping people overcome perfectionism and shame to build authentic, joyful lives. Alissa has been featured on the Good Men Project, Wealth of Geeks, Motherly, MSN.com and more.