Learn How to Spot Greenwashing

Learn how to spot greenwashing

Learn How to Spot Greenwashing

Can you spot greenwashing? Or, do you know what greenwashing even is?

The term itself has increased in popularity 600% in the last 4 years alone!

Which shows how prevalent in society it really is. It’s everywhere. Take a stroll through your supermarket, you’ll likely be met with hundreds of greenwashed products.

The problem is, how do we wise up to it?

Companies Know Sustainability Sells

Sex and sustainability.

Notably, the two things almost guaranteed to increase sales.

Which really says a lot about the complexity of the human brain.

One nurtures our innate desire to do good and better our planet, and the other, well… works a little differently.

Regardless, organisations have been exercising clever strategies within their advertising for many, many moons. Such as, the problem with that, the wool is being pulled over our eyes especially when it comes to sustainability.

How are we supposed to spot greenwashing amidst all of this?


Surely, as consumers and people, we deserve better.


70% of consumers prefer companies who incorporate environmental practices and are bettering our planet.

A whopping 94% of Europeans say that protecting the environment is important to them personally. Two-thirds of this group, said it was in fact, ‘very important’.

With this concern topping most priority lists, companies understand they must step up to meet demand.

Almost 50% of consumers are willing to pay more for a product if they know it has been ethically sourced.

Which is awesome, go team humanity!

However, the psychology of marketing runs deep, and it isn’t always easy to spot greenwashing.

Moreover, there are many way you can be persuaded by a company to purchase a product. You can read more about this here.

Another angle of greenwashing not explored as thoroughly but worth consideration, is how it may be changing our habits. Are we being persuaded into non-eco-friendly practices?

For example, a company offering to recycle your soft plastics, may make us feel the use of that item is okay. I can simply recycle, rather than cutting back.

If a product has swapped to paper packaging, does that mean I can buy more of it?

When the likelihood is, that product could easily still incur environmental ramifications. Or perhaps, be harmful to you.


Sneaky Advertising

It’s frightening how good the world is becoming at advertising.

On one hand, it’s brilliant, ads for items we need will pop up.

And some ads, make us stop in our tracks, they make us cry, they make us laugh. It can be a beautiful thing (for anyone who hasn’t seen John Lewis Christmas Ads – it’s time well spent).

However, this sours a touch when companies use clever advertising techniques to dupe us. Our psychology can work against us in this sense, we can be persuaded into purchasing something we don’t need. For fear of missing out, or the desire to be like the airbrushed model we see before us.

Not to mention, this is put into overdrive when we are led to believe the item is ‘sustainable’.

Here’s an interesting fact for you –

During the first Earth Day in 1970, companies spent 8x more on ‘green ads’, than on implementation of environmental practices.

It’s shocking isn’t it!? With the amount of money and effort that goes into talking about sustainability, they could have been taking tangible action.

You’d have thought we could spot greenwashing a mile off, but corporations know how to make it very tricky indeed.

Let’s wise up to greenwashing, and demand more.


Spot Greenwashing Through Affective Conditioning


Advertisers will often use something called ‘affective condition’.

Affective conditioning is where a product is placed next to an image that people associate with being positive, or good.

For example, a paper company displays a young child doing homework on their paper, outside in the sunshine.

This makes us feel positive about the brand and in 9/10 times, an easy way to spot greenwashing.

Does this company have any assimilation with sunshine and grass?

Well, maybe?

Additionally, would it not be more important to consumers to showcase some useful facts. Such as showing their paper has come from trees that aren’t illegally logged. Or, doesn’t contribute to deforestation of our crucial forest eco-systems.

Making these claims whether they are backed-up or not increases profits. Unfortunately it’s as simple as that.

All we need to do now, is acknowledge it is happening. And know how to avoid ourselves being manipulated in the future.

Friends with shopping bags

No Transparency? No buy!

Claims are all well and good.

But does it stop there?

Likely, if it does, you’ve got a greenwasher on your hands.

Firstly, if you aren’t sure, delve deeper, go through their website, ask questions if you must. Anything you need to spot greenwashing if it’s there.

It very well may be that the backing of the claim was lost in translation.

But you want to be sure, and always come into these things with a healthy amount of scepticism. It will serve you well.

If a company cannot answer your question, or you cannot find anything to back up said claim… It’s time to look elsewhere.

The chances are, there is another company offering the same product or service, but better.

Nevertheless, the best form of marketing comes in the form of facts and proven claims. That’s what we should be looking for!

An ambiguous marketing claim would look something like ‘All natural, eco-friendly nappies’.

Which is fine (if you can find how they are naturally made). To remove any shred of doubt, look for companies that communicate in stats, facts and ingredients. An example of this could be ‘50% organic cotton used in our nappies, grown and cared for by x’.

Hopefully, you see the difference between the two.

Look out for certification stamps too. They act like an invisible best friend. Good to have around, but they aren’t really there.

Above all be careful the certification stamp you see isn’t made-up. Others are easier to trust as they come with reputation, such as ‘rainforest alliance’ or ‘Cruelty free international’. Like anything else, research, and then research some more.  

Don’t fall for any of the BS.

Woman saying stop

Buzzwords to Avoid

Oh, and then come the buzzwords.

So many buzzwords.

But, somewhat great for us, as by identifying what they are we can spot greenwashing with ease.

Here are some of those words you want to look out for:


What does green even mean??


What constitutes sustainable? This is different for everyone, and depends on your own personal standards. This isn’t necessarily bad (really none are) but you’re going to want to do some digging if this isn’t immediately backed up.


Ooh this one is a favourite of ours. And possibly the biggest wool-puller-overer to exist. Most biodegradable plastic only biodegrades in an industrial composter and even then it likely still wouldn’t happen for many years. If a company cannot prove how quickly or in what circumstances a product can biodegrade. Avoid it like the plague if biodegradable is what you’re after. Saying that, there are some fantastic products that do biodegrade, but these are usually made from vegetable based plastics.


This word should be followed up by the products that are in fact natural. So, if it was a soap for instance, this could be ‘Jojoba’ or ‘Shea Butter’ or ‘Coconut Oil’. If the packaging doesn’t display it’s ingredient list with you readily, nasty ingredients may be lurking. 


It’s a shame this term has been tarnished over time. You can see a running pattern here. If it doesn’t follow up with how it is eco-friendly, you’ll need to do more research. Otherwise you want to check they are in fact, working ethically.


This encourages consumeristic behaviour. Local recycling rules will apply too, so bear this in mind. We aren’t downing on those of you recycling, it’s a great step in the bigger picture.

Generally, watch out for fluffy language and anything that is unsubstantiated.

The same rules apply to green imagery. Keep an eye out for nature based images.

Then again, please remember, buzzwords don’t automatically mean a company is greenwashing you, it just means you need to ensure the claims made are backed up.

tree planting

Greenwashing in Tree Planting

Now this is our area of expertise, we know this industry very well of course.

We can spot greenwashing a gazillion miles away.

You’d think, how can registered charities and non-profit organisations possibly greenwash you?

Spot Greenwashing

It can be very easy to inflate what’s going on. Everyone needs to make money, charities included. You want to be sure that the primary goal of the organisation lies with the cause, and not with lining pockets.

How to spot greenwashing with tree planters?

Ask these questions:

  1. Do you plant seedlings or seeds
  2. Do you maintain your trees after planting?
  3. What is the survival rate of every seed or seedling planted?
  4. How do you prevent illegal logging?
  5. Is the tree legally protected/will it ever be cut down?
  6. Is this tree conducive to the area?
  7. Are workers paid living/minimum wages?
  8. Do you release your financial records?
  9. Without your donation, would the trees still be planted?

Not every answer is indicative that a company is acting for or against the environment. But, it will help you build a picture of who they are.

Always seek transparency. As sadly, not everyone is acting ethically, it’s our personal job to spot greenwashing and make informed choices.

At TreeTime we truly pride ourselves on our transparency, our entire model is built around it.

We will always endeavour to deliver cold hard facts, and avoidance of fluffy terms. So you know exactly what is going on! From the trees going in the ground, to where your donation goes.

spot greenwashing in future

Successful Green Marketing

Let’s take a second to commend those doing a bloody great job.

Not every company is Satan dressed in a bunny outfit.

Patagonia – notably, these guys are pretty much the gold standard when it comes to sustainable practices. They show their shortcomings and advocate buying less.

Lush – their marketing is simple and well executed. You can see their products, ingredients, and packaging have been carefully selected. Also, they also don’t confuse you with lots of marketing jargon. 

The Ordinary – Similar to Lush, are very simplistic in style. The focus isn’t on how your skin will look or feel when using their products. Coupled with their focus on ingredients, and on transparency. If it goes on your skin, you should know what’s in it.

All Birds – Their website showcases quite centrally the creation of their product. So, you know where your trainers are coming from and after all that is one of the most important element!

Additionally, if the business you’re looking at is a certified B Corp – this is a good sign they are doing exactly what they say they’re doing. 


What a journey.

Let’s push corporations to do better, we don’t want to be super detective spies to spot greenwashing. Because the ultimate goal is that there will be no greenwashing to spot.

We have a lot of power with our purchasing decisions. Refuse to buy from those only appearing to be ‘green’. And give to those doing right by our planet. This way we can make change.

Firstly, companies will be forced to be more transparent, to show and not tell us what they’re doing.

(Which is exactly what we do btw ;))

Secondly, please approach judgement cautiously, as many are really trying. The bigger the ship, the harder it is to steer onto a new course.

Change takes a lot of time and effort to implement.

By all means, let’s support where we can support.

You have every right to put your own health and wellbeing first. As well as the planet’s health too. Ask questions, and never surrender faith, we are heading in the right direction.

Be part of the wave pushing us where we need to go.

And if you are interested in tree planting, scoot on over to the main part of the website. Where you can see all about who we are and what we do!

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