What is Greenwashing and How do You Avoid It?

What is Greenwashing and How Do You Avoid It?

Sustainability is a big draw for customers these days, just as a lack of sustainability can impact sales for any holistic business. However, like the terms “natural” and “holistic” are still somewhat vague and unregulated, so is the idea of sustainability, as it can mean different things to different people. One thing is clear though–your skincare business can’t be sustainable if it uses greenwashing in its marketing and packaging. Because of this, it’s essential to avoid greenwashing at all costs. 

As many as 28% of consumers said they stopped using a product last year due to ethical or sustainable concerns. This demonstrates the ethical and financial imperative of authentic sustainability. Yet, many businesses fall into the trap of greenwashing or making false sustainability claims about potentially harmful products.

But what exactly is greenwashing? And how do you avoid it? The answers will inform an authentic and effective approach to holistic marketing. 

Sustainability office interior

What is greenwashing?

Let’s start by fully exploring the topic of greenwashing. 

Greenwashing, by definition, is the act of spreading false information to the public about a product’s environmental benefits. Often, this occurs when companies throw out buzzwords like “clean” and “green” without anything to back up these claims. Sometimes, this strategy works and greenwashing effectively creates an environmentally responsible image for a business that is anything but. More often, however, greenwashing has negative consequences.

Just look at what happened when automobile manufacturer Volkswagen made claims about their vehicles’ “clean diesel.” Volkswagen pushed the environmental safety of these cars, only to have it come to light that VW was cheating the system. Rather than actually reducing emissions, these vehicles were fitted with a defeat device that recognized when emissions testing software was being used. These devices produced false “green” results, while in reality, the vehicles emitted as much as 40 times average nitrogen oxide pollution rates.

The result? The company has paid out over $35 billion in charges and penalties. Meanwhile, 30,000 VW employees lost their jobs.

This example should be a lesson to every business on the impact of false sustainability claims. Customers are sharp, and just because buzzwords like “clean” and “green” aren’t regulated by the FDA or FTC doesn’t mean you can get away with using them where they do not apply. In the health and beauty industry, this is just as applicable.

An estimated 120 billion units of packaging are produced by the global beauty industry, for instance. This translates to rampant pollution and waste. Customers will see through false sustainability claims for businesses that don’t do their part to make the world a little bit healthier for us all.

How to avoid greenwashing

How to avoid greenwashing

Avoiding greenwashing in your holistic marketing efforts requires a commitment to true sustainability as well as attention to detail. Without an eye on your processes and data, for example, you run the risk of making false statements about the actual cleanliness of a product for the environment. Meanwhile, sustainability goes beyond the environment alone. 

True sustainability incorporates renewable and ethical practices when it comes to people and finances, as well. The three core elements of environmental, social, and economic sustainability support thriving business decisions and customers that feel respected. 

As you look for ways to avoid greenwashing, consider how your claims will affect all three of these categories — especially if untrue. These tips can help you stick to the truth and stay far away from greenwashing:

1. Build a culture committed to true sustainability

Sustainability claims will only ring true to customers if they are supported by actions. That means transforming your company culture into one committed to sustainability in all its forms. You may sell holistic and green beauty products, but if internal policies aren’t sustainable, you may do more damage than good. That’s why every business should incorporate sustainability in the workplace

This can take many forms. From an in-house recycling program to employee education, there are all kinds of ways to build a more sustainable culture. Integrate these tools and create a workforce that self-polices marketing claims. 

2. Let ingredients speak for themselves

We’ll say it again: customers are sharp. The internet makes it easier than ever to uncover facts about ingredients, products, and processes. Without authentic and ethical ingredient sourcing practices, you’re bound for a reckoning. That’s why it’s best to be careful with vague statements like “clean” and “green.” 

Instead, advertise the merits of the ingredients you use and the way you source products. Customers often know which healthy beauty products to look for. Rosehip and argan oil, for instance, host naturally occurring nutrients and can be cultivated ethically and sustainably. Palm oil, on the other hand, can be problematic. 

3. Incorporate data analysis

Data is everything when it comes to modern business. With the right data, you can maintain accurate insight into customer opinion, sales numbers, niche markets, and more. Data analysis is also key for mitigating greenwashing claims by virtue of the facts. 

Data-driven companies are growing 30% and retaining six times more customers than their counterparts. That’s because customers recognize and appreciate the facts. This is especially true when it comes to pollutants like plastic waste and carbon emissions. Track your own and use the data to improve.

These three methods can help you avoid greenwashing from the start of any holistic skincare marketing campaign. Customers value authenticity and sustainability. Health and beauty businesses cannot afford to damage their reputation in these areas with greenwashing–false claims about the environmental and health benefits of their products. 

Rather, maintain an authentic commitment to sustainability with the help of these tips. Start with your company culture, then assemble the materials and data to make a real difference in environmental health. Through true sustainability, even skincare products can help the planet.

Environmentally sustainable skincare products

Do you need help making your skincare business more sustainable?

Do you need help with ethical ingredient sourcing? Do you want to make sure you are not unintentionally using greenwashing practices in your branding or marketing?

I can help you with that. Book a Hash it Out session today. During your 60-minute session, we’ll review your skincare business’ history, mission, current practices, and goals. You’ll leave the session with specific action steps to help you accomplish those goals.


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