Greenwashing-in-Packaging-Design

What is Greenwashing in Packaging Design?

Green•wash•ing /n. disinformation disseminated by an organization so as to present an environmentally responsible public image. — The Oxford Dictionary

In a new world where more people care about the environment than generations before we want to be a part of the solution as consumers. Not the problem. So we want to buy products that reduce our carbon footprint, reduce waste, and/or are ethical. Great brands are starting to lead by example and give us products that do just that.

Because you can’t have good without evil there are also brands that are “greenwashing”.

Following the demand from consumers, companies that set out to help our planet had to sacrifice to sell their “green” products. Recyclable packaging, environmentally friendly ink, and ethically sourced ingredients are… more expensive. Bottom line.

And for brands who don’t want to spend more money to switch from being a part of the problem? Some brands created secondary packaging for their newly developed products at a higher price point to cover the cost of the more expensive packaging. Bad brands did that too! There is just one main difference. Bad brands didn’t change what’s inside the packaging OR started marketing that they are “green” when they aren’t Or even worse. They just lied to you.

Let’s first start with white lies…

What words can you use when you want to appear green?

  • Natural – Cyanide, arsenic and asbestos are natural – trace amounts will kill you.
  • Organic – A buzz word that means nothing unless it’s certified organic
  • Eco-friendly – Being friendly to the environment? This statement carries no weight.
  • Eco Bio – ‘Eco’ and ‘Bio’ ranges of products are just a name, double-check that they’re actually better for the environment.
  • Green – Going or being green is another hype word that lacks substance.
  • Sustainable – This word has a strained relationship with regards to environmental conservation.
  • x% biodegradable – A product is either completely biodegradable within a human lifetime or it is not. Anything else is hype. 

If you’ve bought any of these brands thinking they were actually “green”, don’t feel like a fool. I actually 100% believed that Mrs. Meyers was “green” for a decade… sigh…

Sometimes there are some quality brands out there that do deliver truly environmentally friendly products. 

We know this because their marketing claims are backed up by industry-recognized certificates and government-backed standards.

Furthermore, they’re open and transparent with the way they operate.

So what’s the difference between greenwashing and green marketing?

Green marketing is not a simple phrase to define, as several meanings cross over and contradict one and other. 

But, is the easiest way possible: Green marketing is the process of marketing products based on their environmental benefits. Period.

How can you tell a company is greenwashing?

It sounds too good to be true. Do the statements sound overstated and perhaps a little dramatic?

It’s hard to double-check. Does a product say it’s organic, but you don’t see a certified organic icon on the packaging from the USDA? Then it’s a lie.

Nature Graphic Elements. This one speaks for itself and is more on the brand than the consumer who wants to be buying products that are good for the earth.

It’s a laser-focused idea. For example, McDonald’s may use recycled paper in their bags, but they are one of the biggest enablers of factory farming, an industry that has mind-blowing methane emissions. Take a look at the bigger picture. Are they trying to show you one hand while hiding the dirty one behind their back?

So what can you do if you’re a brand who wants to know more about going green in an honest way?

Start small. Change one thing at a time if the higher cost of “going green” is too scary right now. Swap your shampoo bottle packaging to recycled plastics? Change the lid of your skincare product to something made from petrochemicals? Is your coffee label made from recycled paper? Is the sticker glue biodegradable?

While I mentioned glue…a new fad in 2021 is “vegan glue” in packaging. Let me just tell you. This isn’t a new thing. By default, the glue used in cardboard boxes is vegan as it uses adhesive polymers from rubber trees. However, if you see a product claiming it uses vegan glue throughout their brand that means it’s a lie. Animal-based (made out of collagen. which is from animal byproducts, leather, and bone marrow) glue is commonly used in tapes, adhesives and other sticky parts of the shipping industry. And without it you can’t ship anything to your customers…

Ok, end of glue rant…

What other small steps can you make as a brand moving forward? Stop selling mini plastic (travel-size) version of a product. Remove single-use packaging and pay a bit more for packaging that a customer will want to keep and re-use (ie. Fun glass bottle).

Bigger Solutions?

Without a doubt, the most ‘ eco-friendly’ packaging is zero-packaging. If there’s zero-packaging used, then there’s zero-packaging to dispose of. But chances are that if you need packaging, zero-packaging isn’t an option.

Use a bioplastic and inform your customers of the importance of it, rather than using petroleum-based plastic. 

Compostable poly mailer bags are a great option if you’re sending durable products through the mail

For many eCommerce brands, the most carbon-neutral packaging option is the traditional cardboard mailer box.

There is a ton of more stuff you can do both with your packaging and within your company to help the environment. Then you can market it to your customers who want to help even more! Do your research and implement innovative ways to stand out as well as be a part of the solution!

If you’re a consumer, do your own homework and check the facts around large corporations and their statements of ‘going green’. Pretty much every cleaning product on the market is not “green”. Most makeup lines are not 100% vegan as well and when they are (like Crunchi) their makeup just flat out doesn’t work as well. So be real with yourself on what products you want to use or reduce the ones that can never really “go green” just on sheer facts.

Greenwashing is a phenomenon that harms both the consumer and honest companies that hold the environment core to everything they do. So you if you’re a brand thinking about whether to lie or tell the truth about being “green” — choose wisely and don’t f**k up!