The Dirty on Greenwashing

- Marianne Contable’s “The Rhetoric of Sustainability

If you are at all gullible or optimistic like myself, likely you have fallen victim to greenwashing. Just raid your bathroom, kitchen or laundry room shelves and see for yourself. Guaranteed you’ll find a bottle or two joyfully boasting environmental-friendliness and rainbows on the front label while the back label begs to differ.

Don’t feel bad, though. Greenwashing - the widely-employed marketing tactic of harnessing empty terms to make companies appear sustainable - is rampant nowadays. With so many “green” companies popping up with new and exciting rhetoric to boast, it’s tough to separate the flowers from the weeds.

Some of our favorites at SeaBlue (and by that I mean our biggest headaches) are:

What do all these terms have in common?

They all: 1. Lack substantial scientific meaning and 2. Lack reliable regulation. 

My personal favorite is “chemical-free!” As my chemical engineer partner scoffs with big exasperated eyes, “Everything is chemicals!” And he means literally e-v-e-r-y-thing. While we can all extrapolate as to what the marketers mean - i.e. no need to wear safety goggles and a lab coat when handling this product - the claim is so outright misleading, it’s both scary and laughable. 

Not even the FDA has given the cosmetic industry definitions for the terms “natural” or “organic.”  So, that “natural” sunscreen you’ve been slathering? Better read the back label and decide for yourself!

And that’s the whole point - until consumer protection laws shield us from misleading claims or agreed-upon environmental standards are widely applied, the solution to greenwashing is… you! You and your beautiful, inquisitive, maybe optimistic, maybe pessimistic, but nonetheless logical and ocean-loving brain! 

Step 1. Disregard the front label and all its fun “eco” claims. 

Step 2. Do your research: Say, “ Hey, self, this thing that I need, let me trace its supply chain, let me critique its production, let me analyze its ingredients, let me take note of its packaging…”

Step 3. Decide for yourself.

Take our conundrum at SeaBlue:  “ocean-friendly” is our guiding star. Legally and scientifically “ocean-friendly” means absolutely nothing. This puts us in a bind. Any greenwashing nincompoop can slap our “ocean-friendly” star on any single-use-plastics or drum of fossil fuel or fast-fashion trend… and who is going to stop them?

If I were a pessimist, I’d say “no one.” As an optimist, though, I venture to say democracy - the democracy of hundreds, then thousands, then millions of people seeing through the greenwash B.S. The democracy of millions choosing science and ethics over feel-good marketing terms. Because “ocean-friendly” may mean absolutely nothing legally, but to us it means absolutely everything