I’m sure you feel great about yourself when you want to try a new product thinking: “Hey, maybe I can choose something different this time, something environmentally friendly, something fresh and new.”
This happened to me with shampoo. It’s something most people use every day so you can’t go wrong. I went to the supermarket, took a deep breath and looked at all the hair product options standing right in front of me, taking it all in: all shades, shapes and colors.
It’s a mess! A bombardment of choices, prices, labels and brands. If it’s too high or too low, you won’t even bother but if it’s right in front of you and no one is watching, you might as well sneak a peek, open the bottles and pick the one that smells amazing to you. End of story.
But no, not this time. This time I want to be nice to the planet, I think about all the plastic in the oceans and I want to cast a vote towards a more sustainable future.
So I come across this nice little shampoo called “Love beauty and planet”: Clean Oceans Edition. Oh GOD this is exactly what I was looking for! I read on and the label says: “Bottle made from 100% ocean bound plastic.” Amazing. I keep reading and it says: “We’re donating $250,000 USD to protecting our oceans.” And the bonus is it’s also healthy for your hair: it’s sulfate free.
This was the moment I heard George Clooney’s voice: “What else?” So I bought it. No questions asked.
Now let’s fast-forward to the shower. I was washing my hair, enjoying the smell of sea salt and bergamot, when a question popped into my head: “who made this shampoo anyway?” I was so taken by the marketing that I forgot to ask myself where this was coming from.
With shampoo in my hands I picked up the bottle and there it was: Unilever.
The shower was over. The moment of regret had come: as the shampoo in my head was being washed away by water, I began to drown myself with questions. Is Unilever a sustainable company? What is their plastic recycling policy? Are they doing enough? Are they walking the talk? Have I just been fooled by their eco-friendly marketing techniques?
I had a feeling I had fallen victim to greenwashing, brainwashing and shampoo-washing, business as usual.
Greenwashing was introduced in 1986 by Jay Westerveld, an environmentalist who realized hotels were shaming guests by saying they should reuse towels to save water and “save the planet” when in reality, it was a marketing technique used to reduce costs.
When I was googling the brand of shampoo I used next to greenwashing, I did come across a specific criticism:
“The brand Love Beauty and Planet markets itself as vegan; however, the brand is actually owned by the company Unilever that tests on animals and is one of the largest contributors of plastic waste.”
“Unilever is a British-Dutch transnational consumer goods company that owns other top brands such as Dove, Lipton, and Breyers. Despite their attempts to promote gender equality and saving the environment through their advertisements, it’s all for marketing.”
We are not here to trash anyone. We are here to think and ask questions. Are companies really doing their part or are they making consumers think they care a little bit about the planet and keep making money while they can fool us?
All I am saying is, it’s great to think we are recycling plastic trash going into the oceans, "ocean bound plastic" and reusing it for new products. There’s even a company called Social Plastic who created incentives for the recollection of ocean plastics by local coastal communities doing environmental and social impact. Many others are doing the same.
But is it enough?
A recent study from The Pew Charitable Trusts and SYSTEMIQ says plastic waste in the oceans will triple by 2040. So no, I don’t think we are doing enough.
So how do we fight greenwashing? How do we authenticate honest brands?
Look for transparency of information, look for certifications. Check the facts. From different sources. Take time to read labels and keep asking questions. Talk to people as well. And then make your own choices, based on what you value.
Being a responsible consumer is not being eco-friendly. Assume you have been fooled until proven otherwise.
Libby McCarthy. “Unilever Brings Sustainable Beauty to the Masses with Love Beauty and Planet Line”. Sustainable Brands. 2018. https://sustainablebrands.com/read/product-service-design-innovation/unilever-brings-sustainable-beauty-to-the-masses-with-love-beauty-and-planet-line
Love beauty and planet. Unilever. 2020 https://www.lovebeautyandplanet.com/us/en/the-love-beauty-planet-movement/world-oceans-day.html
Chris Ciaccha, “New study says plastic waste in oceans will triple by 2040”. Fox News, July 28, 2020. https://nypost.com/2020/07/28/new-study-says-plastic-waste-in-oceans-will-triple-by-2040/
Social Plastic. 2020 Plastic Bank. https://get.plastic-bank.com/plasticbank-what-is-social-plastic-1a/?gclid=EAIaIQobChMI5Nbxuvf36wIVUvDACh2hkQVhEAAYASAAEgKnbfD_BwE
Envision Plastics. Oceanbound plastics. 2019. https://envisionplastics.com/oceanbound-plastic/
“Greenwashing 101: How to Never Buy UNsustainably Again”. Climate Conscious. July 21, 2020. https://medium.com/climate-conscious/greenwashing-101-how-to-never-buy-unsustainably-again-6dbfc5bfd88f
Stephanie Osmanski. “What Is Greenwashing? Greenwashing for Beginners”. Green Matters. May 2020. https://www.greenmatters.com/p/what-is-greenwashing
Hannah Nguyen. “Greenwashing: When being “eco-friendly” isn’t enough”. The Knight Crier. April 18, 2020. https://www.knightcrier.org/top-stories/2020/04/18/greenwashing-when-being-eco-friendly-isnt-enough/