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What Does Greenwashing Mean, and Why Should You Care?

We love to help and promote other brands, and we’ve been doing a lot of that in our recent blogs. So, while the brands we suggest are thoroughly researched and eco-friendly, we thought this might be a good time to discuss the subject of greenwashing. Let’s go over what it means, look at some brands that do it, some brands that don’t, and talk about some great sustainable beauty products.


What is Greenwashing?

The term can mean either of two things – the first is when companies mislead their consumers into believing they’re more environmentally-friendly and ethical than they really are.

The second definition of greenwashing is when a company puts more effort and resources into marketing themselves as green, than they do to actually become green. So in other words, it’s when a company cares more about appearing green than actually being so.

You’d be surprised at how many brands do it, and in how many different ways!


The Six Sins of Greenwashing

TerraChoice Environmental Marketing wrote a paper on the Six Sins of Greenwashing, which clearly illustrates the different ways in which brands can greenwash their consumers. Let’s take a look.

1. Sin of the Hidden Trade-Off

By far the most ‘popular’, this refers to when a brand claims they’re green owing to one attribute (say, paper packaging), while completely ignoring the impact of their other practices. So a brand may use large amounts of non-renewable energy resources, but claim they’re green because they use paper packaging.

2. Sin of No Proof

Occupying roughly 26% of the total share, this sin refers to when brands make claims about their eco-friendliness without providing any proof. Many beauty brands claim they sell sustainable beauty products with organic or earth-friendly ingredients, but provide no actual evidence to back their claim.

3. Sin of Vagueness

This is when a claim is poorly defined or vague, so its real meaning is misunderstood by the consumers. One example is when companies claim their products are free of chemicals. This is simply impossible. Water, salt, sugar, oils – all of these are chemicals. Humans are in fact made up of chemicals.

4. Sin of Irrelevance

This is when companies make claims that are true, but are completely irrelevant and unimportant. For instance, if a brand says they’re pollinator-friendly because their farms don’t use DDT…well, of course they don’t, because DDT’s been banned in the USA since 1972! These claims do nothing to help the user, and create a falsely positive image of the company.

5. Sin of Lesser of Two Evils

Here’s an example that almost sounds like an oxymoron, and perfectly illustrates what this sin is all about: earth-friendly cigarettes. This doesn’t really apply to the beauty industry, because this happens when the actual product in question is something harmful, like cigarettes or insecticides. Companies try to slap on a label saying “organic” so you feel better about buying the product.

6. Sin of Fibbing

The meaning of this sin is fairly obvious – it’s when brands make claims that are completely false. Don’t worry, this isn’t common, but it does happen. Most of the time, TerraChoice states, this sin was committed by brands misusing or misrepresenting a certification. So if your favorite brand says their hand cream is “certified organic” but provides no actual certification, be skeptical.

These were the six categories outlined by the paper, but brands are creative, so watch out for other ways in which they may be misguiding you.


Popular Beauty Brands That Greenwash

Generally, big-name companies are guilty of greenwashing, because if you sell in Mainland China, for instance, you are required by law to test your products on animals. Small US-based companies don’t have that problem, but when a brand has global reach, they will consider profit over ethics.

Here are some of the most well-known skincare and beauty brands that greenwash:

  • MAC – They have a wonderful recycling program that rewards the consumer, but they don’t specify what is done with the containers their consumers bring in. Plus, they claim to be cruelty-free, but they sell in China, where animal testing is required by law.
  • Estee Lauder – They own lots of companies that are doing good work for the environment (think Origins and Aveda), but they own others that are not, with MAC being one example.
  • The Body Shop – They claim to be cruelty-free and Fair Trade certified, but their products contain petrochemicals and synthetic substances, and they irradiate their products to kill microbes. Radiation is bad, bad news for the environment.
  • LUSH – They sell waterless, packaging-free products, but they use toxic chemicals (such as parabens and ‘parfum’) and palm oil in some of them.
  • L’Oreal – They have been trying to reduce their water use and they purify and reuse water where possible. However, they test their products on animals.
  • Unilever is a large corporation, and as such they’re able to do a lot for the environment. However, they are among the worst when it comes to plastic pollution.
  • Korres – They have a lot of products that are largely organic, but some others contain nasty chemicals – including palm oil, which is responsible for a range of problems.

bareMinerals, BioClarity, Burt’s Bees, Herbal Essences, Kiehl’s, Kiss My Face, Neutrogena, Nivea, Raw Sugar Living, Simple Basics, SunBum, and Tarte Cosmetics are some more popular brands that greenwash their consumers.

Avoiding greenwashing isn’t exactly easy, but you can do it if you know how. Always do a little research on a brand’s animal testing policy, its packaging, and the ingredients it uses. There are various resources online where you’ll find all of this information by entering keywords. There’s no way to be completely eco-friendly (only relatively), so you’ll probably find that many, many brands are greenwashing you on some level.


Five Brands That Are Not Greenwashing

It isn’t very easy to spot when a brand is greenwashing, but it’s still harder to be sure that a brand isn’t greenwashing. However, here’s a short list of brands we’ve done the research on, and know are perfectly clean, with genuinely sustainable beauty products:

ATHR Beauty

Also known as Aether Beauty, they have an eyeshadow palette that’s all good, without a catch! It comes in a palette made of recycled materials, with aluminum pans and pigment-packed eyeshadows that contain organic skincare oils. The palette comes with a mirror and magnets, so it can be sent in for recycling once you’ve finished using it.

Upcircle Beauty

This brand sells natural, handmade products that include repurposed ingredients from the food and drink industry. Their soap bar, for instance, is infused with repurposed chai spices. The majority of the waste we produce is food waste, so this is an innovative idea that’ll go far. Their products are also sustainable, ocean-friendly, vegan, cruelty-free, palm oil free and recyclable.

Earthwise Beauty

Finding eco-friendly options for shipping isn’t always easy, but Earthwise Beauty is dedicated to the cause. They get their ingredients from local meadows, forests and a few organic herb farms, harvest sustainably, use minimal processing, and pack the product into recyclable jars and bottles. Click the link above to learn more about their eco-friendly practices.

Whind

They produce low-impact, cruelty-free, planet-friendly products, and offset their carbon footprint to help further. They encourage their users to reuse the glass bottles and jars their product comes in, and to recycle. Their cardboard boxes, stickers, tissue and paper inserts are all recyclable, and they’re working on other facets to become still greener.

Axiology

They sell zero waste, award-winning "balmies" that can be used on your lips, eyes and cheeks. Their boxes are recyclable, and made by a group of women that collects trash from the beaches of Bali and turns it into attractive boxes. Some of their products come in 50% PCR plastic, and they’re working towards moving to 100% PCR plastic instead.

We’re always here to help you find great brands that sell honest products that don’t hurt our precious Earth, but we encourage you to do your own research as well. Even if we’ve told you that a product is good (and stated why), it never hurts to get to know the ingredients and processes used to make it.


Fait avec Coeur Values Transparency

At Fait avec Coeur, we understand the importance of transparency, and would never lead our customers and readers astray. All our products are as eco-friendly as we can make them, as are the products by any and all brands we partner with. 

Earth Harbor, for instance, is a brand we feel completely comfortable recommending. They sell some wonderful sustainable beauty products, like the Marina Biome Brightening Ampoule, which gives your skin vital nutrients, and works to correct uneven skin tone, texture and discoloration.

Their products are all cruelty-free, ethical, natural, sustainable, vegan, non-GMO, fair trade, and plant-based, with no fillers added. Like us, they’ve also teamed up with 1% For The Planet, so for every product you buy, they donate a small portion of the proceeds to organizations that work to protect the world’s oceans and help solve the global water crisis.

To read more about the water crisis and why waterless beauty has become a trend, read more here.