What Is Greenwashing (And Why Should You Care?)

Trying to find the right natural products for your beauty routine can be tough. There’s an overwhelming number of terms used to describe (and sell) beauty products, all of which are used interchangeably. Some sound like they’re natural beauty products or that they’re a better choice than other alternatives, but that might not actually be the case.

This is known as greenwashing and is a real problem in the beauty industry. Let’s find out more about what it is and why you should care. 

What Is Greenwashing?

The term “greenwashing” is used to describe a type of marketing that tries to make products sound more appealing to customers who care about sustainability, the environment and natural products. Even if this isn’t really the case. It’s also sometimes known as “green sheen”. The brands who greenwash are deliberately misleading their audience in order to make a sale.

Words like “green”, “natural” “sustainable”, “environmentally friendly”, “renewable” and “clean” don’t have a legal or protected meaning in marketing, advertising or the beauty industry. Lots of brands use these words correctly to describe products that genuinely do make a difference when it comes to sustainability, natural ingredients and the environment. And yet many aren’t.

As more consumers show their interest in spending their money on environmentally conscious beauty products, brands are trying to give them what they want. In some cases, this just isn’t true and the brands are deliberately taking advantage of the rise in interest.

Why Do Brands Greenwash?

The global natural beauty market is set to hit £17 billion by 2024 the global wellness market is worth more than £3.2 trillion. The beauty industry is competitive, and brands greenwash so that they can carve out a piece of this lucrative market.

It can also help to mask issues with the environmental impact of products. If a product is made in an unsustainable way that might not appeal to customers, then companies might greenwash another aspect of the product to hide the real problem with their product. It’s lying by omission and hiding the truth.

Greenwashing can also happen when a company has overpromised on what it can achieve in terms of making a difference to the environment. They may then look to ‘tick a box’ rather than making real changes to sustainability, which is where greenwashing comes into it.

Examples of Greenwashing

Greenwashing can be as simple as making packaging, a product name or branding look like it’s more ‘natural’, using green colours or plants even if the ingredients don’t reflect this. Some brands use misleading icons and logos that deliberately look like cruelty-free or recycling logos, even when the products are neither. 

It can also be what’s left unsaid too. Omitting details - like calling a product sustainable when it’s just one component part of it that’s actually made of sustainable materials or referring to a product as ‘organic’ when only a few ingredients are - can also be considered as greenwashing. 

The same goes for making claims to offset carbon emissions, making a donation to environmental issues or committing to things like reforesting without actually following it up. The problem is that many businesses get away from it because there’s no regulation and no-one’s checking up to ensure that they’ve fulfilled their promises. 

The International Consumer Protection Enforcement Network have previously analysed hundreds of websites for green claims vs action. They found that as many as 40% of environmentally friendly claims might be misleading customers.

Why Is Greenwashing A Problem?

Greenwashing is a problem for a number of different reasons. The biggest one for us is that it misleads customers, meaning that they’re making a purchase based on false information which means that brands are profiting from misleading their customers. It makes it extremely difficult to separate fact from fiction.

This approach also hurts the brands who are genuinely dedicated to nature and the environment. Because customers may have been misled by a ‘green’ brand before, they may end up feeling sceptical about environmentally friendly products in general. This means that genuine ethical brands get pushed out of the conversation, whereas greenwashing brands stay at the forefront.

It’s also a problem as it means that real environmental, sustainable changes aren’t being made but the general public believes that they are. This could have real consequences for the future of the planet, climate and nature, especially if consumers think that they’re making legitimate green choices.

When large, global brands greenwash it takes away opportunities from smaller brands and startups who focus on creating products with zero waste or sustainability built in from the beginning. This limits consumer choice as well as entrepreneurship within the beauty industry.

Greenwashing In The Beauty Industry

The Soil Association's Organic Beauty & Wellbeing Market report shows that Millennials and Gen Z, who represent 39 percent of the general population, care about the ingredients in their favourite beauty products. Gen Z are some of the biggest spenders when it comes to beauty products, so it makes sense for brands to keep them happy.

Unfortunately, many beauty brands say what they think the customer wants to hear rather than striving to make real changes.A big problem when it comes to the beauty industry is its lack of regulation. The natural beauty industry is even less regulated. The terms that relate to natural beauty - such as “clean beauty”, “green beauty” and “renewable beauty” don’t have any meaning in a legal sense. 

That means that products can be referred to as natural even if they don’t meet the criteria that most people would consider to be natural. It also means that some ingredients in a formulation are natural and some aren’t, but the product packaging shouts about it like every ingredient is completely natural. This even refers to wording that you might think would be created, like organic. A product only needs to contain 1% of organic ingredients to be labelled as organic in the EU.

The good news is that there are more real clean, green and natural beauty products available than ever before. You just need to be prepared to put in the work and research it takes to verify that your products actually are natural and sustainable.

At Elth, we want to make it easier for you by decoding the label and using technology to review and assess just how natural a product is. This rating then helps customers with the information and insights they need to make a decision on how they spend their money in the beauty industry.  

How To Avoid Greenwashing

If you’re looking for ways on how you can avoid greenwashing, a good place to start is to look for brands that have taken the time, money and effort to have their products certified by approved groups.  

Here are some of the most common and legitimate in the UK and what it means when you see their logos on products:

  • B Corp - means that a business is legally required to do beneficial things for the environment and the people who help create their products.
  • Carbon Trust - meets a certain standard of carbon emission reduction, meaning the product is trying to minimise its carbon impact.
  • COSMOS - guarantees organic and natural cosmetics certification.
  • Fairtrade - the product has been made by people who received a fair wage for their work.
  • Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) - the product is made using sustainable or responsibly managed wood sources.
  • Leaping Bunny - which means that the product has not been tested on animals.

Not all certifications are created equally. Brands can essentially hand over money to more unscrupulous awarding bodies in order to achieve their green status, rather than having to provide proof or data. Make sure your favourite green brand’s green credentials are legitimate. 

Check that the logos, labels and awarding bodies are genuine too. As we mentioned earlier, some brands will deliberately use imagery and logos that look similar to certification logos but don’t actually mean anything. This is greenwashing at its finest.

Taking care of recycling your beauty products properly also helps fight greenwashing. It makes a difference to how much waste goes into landfill, which ultimately benefits sustainability, environment and the planet.

Cutting through the deliberately misleading information around greenwashing isn’t always easy but doing your research is essential if you care about the products that you use. Take a look at their packaging, website (especially the sustainability page), certifications and reviews to get a feel for whether they really are as good for the environment as they say.

How Elth Is Helping To Combat Greenwashing

The Soil Association's research found that 72 percent of consumers said they would lose trust in a brand if they found out that a product that said organic on the label was not certified and could not meet organic standards.

We wanted to make the process of selecting genuine natural and green beauty products easier for the customer. That’s why we partnered with INCI Beauty, the leading scanning app for cosmetics in Europe, to ensure all ingredients used to create the products sold through our platform are good for your health.

For each product beauty product we sell on site, INCI Beauty returns an overall score between 0 and 20 as well as the list of ingredients it contains (also known as the INCI list). Each ingredient is identified by a system of coloured flowers: green, yellow, orange and red. The more red the colour, the more controversial the ingredient, and the more green it is - the better. Because it’s tech-based, it can be constantly kept up to date.

Our mission is to connect you with valuable brands, helping you to select their best products by making sure their ingredients are excellent for your body. We’re extremely proud to say that all of our products are healthy and of the tech-led transparency we’re adding to the beauty and wellness industry. We believe that making this as easy as possible is the key to helping curb greenwashing in the beauty industry.

Buy Healthy Beauty Products At Elth

Looking for the products with the highest INCI rating? Take a look at our curated collection of natural beauty products with the best rated products right here at Elth. We want to make beauty healthy.

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