7 Tips to Avoid Greenwashing

We've talked a lot about greenwashing on this blog, but we haven't fully delved into what it is and how to avoid it. 

7 tips to avoid greenwashing from www.goingzerowaste.com

what is greenwashing? 

Greenwashing is when a product or business says they're green or eco-friendly, but they spend more resources on making sure you know that, rather than actually implementing this into their business practices. 

For example, a grocery store runs a huge campaign about how green they are because they recycle plastic bags. When in reality, the best thing the grocery store could do is stop offering plastic bags in the first place.

Or they could spend all of those resources on a campaign to incentivize bringing your own bag like a .05 cent discount on your purchase. 

It all boils down to profit. It's typically a company or a business making a claim in order to sell more products. 

For example, a streaming service announces that it's now partially powered by renewable energy. That's great! Now you feel better about using their services. 

What they don't tell you is that, it's only 3% of their servers are running on renewable energy. It's basically a bait and switch, but we'll get to that in the next header. 

why is greenwashing a problem? 

Greenwashing is hiding a larger problem. At it's best it's a marketing ploy and at it's worst it actually incentivizes something that hurts the environment. 

Like the grocery bag example. By running a huge campaign about recycling plastic bags, this will encourage more people to take plastic bags. They think by taking more plastic bags and recycling them, they're doing the right thing - the "green" thing.

In reality, they're encouraging a non-eco-friendly habit. 

As the eco-friendly/natural/green movement etc. grows the more marketers are going to use it to their advantage. Their main goal is to sell more products. If they can sell more products by being "green," then so be it. 

A more extreme version is an oil company saying they want to branch out into renewable energy sources. You can help them transition to cleaner energy if you buy their oil. All the while they're lobbying for big oil and funding pseudo-science to inform the public there's nothing wrong with oil. 

how can you tell?

1. Do you see an awesome green claim? Double check it. Go to their website. Is there a lot of information? Or do you see a lot of ambiguity? If it's really vague and unspecific - it's greenwashing. 

2. Is the ad diverting you from the big picture? Sure BP helped clean up cuddly little ducks. It pulled on your heart strings. How adorable! But, if it weren't for gross negligence on their part, those little ducks wouldn't have been covered in oil in the first place. That's greenwashing. 

3. Are the words misleading? Are they saying a whole bunch of nothing? Is there any substantial information? Are their sources for their claims like actual certifications or provable facts? 

4. What about the graphics? Are the graphics all green? Do they depict beautiful nature scenes? Are they trying to make you feel like the product is natural when it might be anything but? 

5. Does the claim feel too good to be true? Are they overstating intention? Do you really think the company can follow through with their claims? 

6. What's your gut reaction? I'm pretty sure we all know not to take advertisements at face value. There's always an ulterior motive to get to your pocket book. Trust yourself.

7. When in doubt google it. The great thing about the internet is the history is all there. 

the test:

I'm going to show you a couple of ads below and tell me how you feel about them. I'll discuss what's wrong with each of them below. 

7 Tips to Avoid Greenwashing from www.goingzerowaste.com

First off, pure and natural mean absolutely nothing. The package is green which makes you feel like this is a natural setting. They use the word organic cotton, but there's no organic symbol. Therefore organic means absolutely nothing. 

If you actually google this brand of diapers you'll find out the uncertified organic cotton is only used in a small amount on the outside of the diaper. You don't know what type of inks they're using, and they're still bleached with chlorine. They're definitely landfill trash too; they aren't compostable. 

They have misleading claims about how big of a problem diapers are in landfills on their website. All in all, that doesn't sound very natural to me. 

7 Tips to Avoid Greenwashing from www.goingzerowaste.com

Seriously. 20 MPG highway is terrible. This thing is totally thirsty for gas. The only way this ad could be better is if the whole thing were green. 


One of my favorite examples of greenwashing. It's so hip and so chic. A lot of white space very modern minimal design to appeal to do-gooder hipsters. 

It's begging the question, is boxed water really better? No. It's not. It's still a disposable item and it's even less recyclable (if possible) than bottled water. 

Plus the box is still lined with plastic. It's a tetra pak and unrecyclable in most municipalities. Greenwashing at it's finest folks. 

According to the tetra pak website 58% of US households have access to tetra pak recycling. But, I just typed in almost every city I've lived in in the past 10 years and couldn't recycle tetra paks in a single one. Including my current bay area town. 

58% don't believe it. 

7 Tips to Avoid Greenwashing from www.goingzerowaste.com

This is just hilarious. They made a new cap with less plastic to benefit the environment.... riiiiggghhhttttt....... 

7 Tips to Avoid Greenwashing from www.goingzerowaste.com

H&M responsible for pushing fast fashion and engineering 52 micro-seasons that make you feel completely out of fashion the moment after you wear something. They're now taking back your old textiles and will give you a coupon to buy more clothes. 

By the way, most of those clothes aren't actually going to be recycled but put off onto third world countries where the problem will be exacerbated since they don't have the proper form of infrastructure for dealing with toxic waste. You can read more about this on my post about fast fashion here

It's infuriating how greenwashed the campaign is. Never once taking ownership over the problem they created, but rather took the problem and turned it into an opportunity to sell more clothes. 

Do you have any favorite greenwashed campaigns? What are some of your tips for avoiding greenwashing? 

Four Tips for Starting a Zero Waste Lifestyle

I spoke for the second year in a row at the Zero Waste Youth Convergence in SF. Last year I did a DIY workshop on making your own lip balm and this year I spoke on individual action. 

4 tips for starting a zero waste lifestyle and become a conscious consumer from wwww.goingzerowaste.com

I have learned quite a bit in my two years of zero waste living and here are some important takeaways I'd want to impart to anyone who's considering reducing the waste in their life. 

buy less:

The average American throws out 4.4lbs of trash a day. For every pound of trash we throw away, 7lbs is thrown away on average in the waste upstream. That's almost 30lbs of trash a day. 


Buying less is the number one thing you can do to produce less trash. 

Before buying anything make sure you really truly need it. I always ask myself a series of questions.

  • Do you really need it?
  • Is it really necessary?
  • Can something else make do?
  • Do you need to own it?

Zero waste is not just about a trash jar. It's not solely about the landfill. Trash is a physical representation of misallocated resources. 

Earth Overshoot Day illustrates this best. Earth Overshoot Day came in the beginning of August last year. It's the day that illustrates how many resources the earth can sustainably produce for the year. 

We're using almost two earth's worth of resources. It's completely unsustainable. So, the best thing we can do for the planet is to buy less. 

buy well:

However, there are still purchases we need to make. If you don't live completely off grid/are self-sustaining, you'll need to make some purchases.

So when you do purchase something, really think about its full life-cycle. Think about where it came from and where it's going after you're through with it. 

Here are a series of questions I like to ask myself when making a new purchase.

  • Ask a friend.
  • Can you find it second hand?
  • Can you find it local?
  • Who made it?
  • Is it made to last/ can it be repaired?
  • What happens when you’re done with it?

Always check the secondhand market first and if you're going to buy something new make sure you're taking everything into consideration.

And, whatever you do don't settle. 

If I've learned anything in two years of zero waste living, it's that settling for something your not 100% happy with inevitably means you will be unhappy with it. Then you'll look for something else which is a waste of money and time. 

So whatever you buy, you better love it. 

find contentment:

We live in a world full of constant advertisements. Advertisers tell us in order to be happy or in order to get the girl or boy we have to have this product. This product will make us happy or loved. 

One of the most rebellious things you can do is find contentment with what you already have. 

Things don't define you. They don't give you worth. Instead of buying things to make you look better or cooler, try spending time bettering yourself. Take a class, learn a new skill, truly focus on self-improvement. 

strike a balance: 

And, like you've heard on this blog a hundred times before, it's not about perfection it's about making better choices. 

Personal sustainability is super important. I've written a whole post about it, you can read it here. It's one of my favorite blog posts I've ever written. 

We live in a society where things are meant to be thrown away. We don't live in a perfect world where zero waste is normal. 

Instead, we just do the best we can where we are. Things are going to happen that don't 100% align with your values and that's alright.

Each decision you make is a vote for the future you want. So, buying package free goods and purchasing products from responsible companies is a vote for a move to a circular economy, where waste is resumed back into the system like nature.  

So get out there, and do the best you can! 

Even if it's one change. Even if it's only buying a lonely banana. Every single step in the right direction is just that, a step in the right direction. 

What would be some of your tips for someone starting a zero waste life? 

DIY, Zero Waste Extra Strength Deodorant

I am about to enter into my third year of blogging. Which is INSANE. I cannot believe it. This can only mean one thing. It's time for another deodorant update.

Learn how to make a DIY extra strength deodorant that's totally zero waste from www.goingzerowaste.com plus it's coconut oil free!

I've consistently had a deodorant update around this time each year. (which I think is pretty humorous.) I am still perfectly happy with my last recipe, but if you're really active it can be too light.

I work a desk job and my idea of exercising is a brisk walk with my dog and a 10-minute sleepy-time yoga routine. I am not very active on a day to day basis. I don't enjoy sweating. If I just described your life, my last deodorant recipe might be *perfect* for you. (However, I am super enjoying the ease of this recipe, so maybe try this one too.) 

I have recently tried very hard to be a little more active. I am personally of the mindset eat really, really well and exercise less. But, alas, I am getting older and softer. Not larger, I just don't have quite the definition I did in my youth. I miss you effortless 6-pack. 

Learn how to make a DIY extra strength deodorant that's totally zero waste from www.goingzerowaste.com plus it's coconut oil free!

I am trying to whip myself into shape, so I look like a super model in my wedding dress - ya feel? 

I know this is slightly off topic, but I seriously HATE exercising. Every. Single. Facet of it. I hate changing clothes for only 30 minutes. I hate constantly showering and washing my hair. I hate how much more laundry I have to do.

It adds SO much extra work to my already packed schedule. All I have to say is thank God for dry shampoo and this exercise-friendly deodorant.

what I LOVE about this recipe: 

  • I love how easily it glides on, very similar to store bought deodorant
  • Without all of the nasty additives in store-bought deodorant. You can read about the additives here and why it's important I avoid them here
  • Has a super silky finish - hello, luxury. 
  • It's super convenient, takes no more time to apply than conventional 
  • I don't have to try and dig it out of a jar, apply with my hands, and then wash my hands. (Just takes way too much time for me in the morning) 
  • It doesn't leave oil stains in the pits of your clothes like some recipes with coconut oil
  • Shelf-stable
  • It works really, really well! (obviously, this was a non-negotiable) 
Learn how to make a DIY extra strength deodorant that's totally zero waste from www.goingzerowaste.com plus it's coconut oil free!

This deodorant finishes so silky smooth and absorbs quickly into the skin. Because no one wants goopy armpits. It's not an oil based recipe rather a butter based recipe so it's very nourishing to the skin as well. 

I feel so fortunate because I can easily get these ingredients package free. I know this may not be the same for everyone. There is a local shop in town that makes their own butters, soaps, bath salts, etc. They make a whole bunch of awesome beauty products. 

I stopped into their store and asked if I could get some cocoa butter and shea butter to go in my own container. They happily agreed! 

If you have any artisans in your town, call them and ask if you can buy some of their ingredients from them in bulk. They will typically order massive quantities which will cut down on packaging waste similar to a bulk store, and you'll be supporting a local small business. 

Learn how to make a DIY extra strength deodorant that's totally zero waste from www.goingzerowaste.com plus it's coconut oil free!

It's worth a shot! 

diy prescription strength deodorant: 

  • 3 Tablespoons of Shae Butter (Bought in bulk from local shop)
  • 2 Tablespoons of Grated Cocoa Butter (Bought in bulk from local shop)
  • 3 Tablespoons of Arrowroot Powder  (Bought in bulk from Rainbow)
  • 2 Tablespoon of Baking Soda (Bought in bulk from Berkeley Bowl) 
  • 2-3 Teaspoons of Vitamin E Oil (Bought in a package from Whole Foods) 

Melt the grated cocoa butter using a double broiler. Once the cocoa butter has liquefied add the shea butter. When the shea butter has liquefied, pull it off the heat. Add in the baking soda and the arrowroot. Stir well to combine making sure there are no lumps. Add in the vitamin E oil.

Pour into an old cleaned out deodorant container or jar if you like, and let it set up in the fridge or freezer for an hour. Then it's ready to apply!

Learn how to make a DIY extra strength deodorant that's totally zero waste from www.goingzerowaste.com plus it's coconut oil free!

You could let it set up overnight on the counter as well, I'm just anxious/impatient. I store it in the bathroom cabinet. No need to keep in the fridge since it's shelf stable! 

Next year, it looks like I'll be working on a baking soda free deodorant for sensitive skin. I've got to keep my tradition going! Are there any other skin care recipes you'd like to see on the blog, deodorant or not? 

AS A NOTE : If this is your first time switching to an all natural deodorant please make sure you detox. You can read more about detoxing in my last deodorant post