What exactly is ‘Green-Washing’—and how to communicate to avoid it?

min read

Not so long ago, you’d have to visit a health food store if you wanted to shop for “natural” beauty products. Now there’s a “clean” or “natural”  beauty brand or store at every corner.

There’s no doubt that “natural” beauty has come a long way in recent years. Whether you’re shopping at your local drugstore, your usual para-pharmacy or a Sephora store, the sheer volume of products labeled as clean, green, natural, non-toxic, vegan - and more- can be overwhelming!

This surely makes us feel more confident while selecting products that are good for us or the planet; it also makes the shopping process more daunting as the ever growing choice can be exhausting.

Isn’t it a good thing that everyone has hopped on the natural beauty hype?

In an article from the Real Simple, Mélanie Rub explains that this is not necessarily good, because “green-washing” is rampant and dangerously present.

What is greenwashing ? According to You Matter - the knowledge website that helps citizens and professionals understand issues that can change the world - “Greenwashing is a communication and marketing strategy adopted by companies or other organizations. It consists in putting forward ecological arguments in order to forge an ecologically responsible image among the public”.
The UN’s guidelines for providing product sustainability information, defines greenwashing as:
  • An attempt to mislead consumers and to market products more environmentally friendly than they actually are,
  • An exaggeration or misrepresentation; a claim that cannot be verified, is irrelevant or is simply false,
  • Where green relates to environmental claims but is also used in the context of social and ethical product information.

And, there’s another downside to the story. Indeed, the beauty industry is almost entirely unregulated, and the natural sector even more so, therefore it’s the wild, wild west where pretty much anyone can do as they please.

Taking this into consideration: How can brands avoid greenwashing?

Given the lack of regulations you can first be educated, savvy and do your due diligence. There are plenty of documentation and articles available online. You can also leverage retailers’ clearly defined and written standards such as Credo Beauty, Sephora, Oh my cream..

Look for external certifications, such as the USDA-certified organic or EcoCert seal, Cosmebio, Cosmos Organic.

Use recently launched screening apps such as Beautylictic, Clean Beauty, Thinkdirty.

And finally, never hesitate to leverage expert advice such as Eva Lagarde’s rich website blog and courses re-sources. Eva provides brands and individuals with a wealth of information about sustainability in the beauty world, completed by subscription modules to enrich knowledge and know-how. She recently published a white paper to help your brand navigate with relevant sustainable beauty marketing claims accessible online here.

In a nutshell: take time to learn and research

Cutting through the green-washing trap requires time and research. That being said, there are more legitimately clean, green beauty products and brands out there than ever before, making it well worth your time and effort to filter out the genuine ones.