How To Tell if a Brand is Greenwashing

Greenwashing is an unfortunate reality of the world in which we live. As we become more concerned with our products being more conscious, companies have taken full advantage. It’s much easier to pretend to be a conscious brand than actually to be one, right?

These tips will help you avoid greenwashing brands and empower you to be a more conscious consumer.

#1 – Look at Their Advertising Strategies and Branding

Does the brand heavily promote itself as being a clean brand without actually saying so?

The imagery and colors used in the branding are a common key area to pay attention to. Greenwashing brands often use green tones and natural or plant-based imagery in their promotional materials and product packaging.

This is a widespread tactic that greenwashing brands use because it gives the impression that the product is eco-friendly or natural, without directly false advertising.

Sometimes brands even outright say they’re clean but it’s not even true.

The above is an obvious example of greenwashing. This baby sunscreen definitely gives the impression that it’s natural with the smiling sun, the green color, and the name itself being “Babyganics.”

The truth is that it contains chemical sunscreen, which has been proven to absorb into the bloodstream, having untold effects on the human body.

#2 – Look At The Ingredients List

Take a good look at the ingredients list. You don’t have to be an ingredient expert to identify common major offenders like chemical sunscreens and parabens.

#3 – Look For Fake Logos & Certifications

Just because a product claims to be organic, cruelty-free, fair trade, or vegan doesn’t mean it’s necessarily true. Look for authentic logos from known certifying agencies like the USDA (for organic claims) and make sure the logos they use are real.

#4 – Use Google

Often, simply using Google to see what other people are saying about a brand is an excellent way to find out if it’s greenwashing or not. These days, brands can’t often get away with greenwashing without someone on the internet talking about it.

#5 – Contact The Company

Being proactive is a great way to keep on top of the world of clean and conscious products. If you have any doubts about a specific product or ingredients in it, email the company. This also has a great secondary benefit of telling the brand that transparency and conscious ingredients are essential.

#6 – Watch Out For Bait and Switch Tactics

Sometimes, companies will create a small line of clean and eco-friendly products to draw customers into their brands. This leads people to believe that the entire brand is a conscious brand when it’s only one product in reality.

Example: Imagine a beauty brand that sells one mascara made out of 100% recycled plastic. This might make people think that the rest of the brand’s products are eco-friendly when in reality, they aren’t.

#7 – Watch Out For Brands That Focus On One Aspect of Being Conscious

Similar to the point above, be aware of brands that might focus on one area to make it seem as though the product is better than it is.

Example: Another beauty brand might base their entire marketing around being plastic-free, but they also support animal testing or use unethical materials like mica in the products.

#8 – Watch out for terms that don’t mean anything

There is a long list of terms used on packaging that doesn’t mean anything. All of the following terms are not regulated, meaning brands can use them to mislead you into thinking the product is better than it is.

If you see any of these terms on a product, it’s a sign that it might be a greenwashing brand.

  • All-natural/natural
  • Biodegradable – Most products that claim to be biodegradable aren’t exactly more eco-friendly. This is because items in a landfill simply won’t biodegrade any faster.
  • Botanical
  • Chemical-free
  • Cruelty-free – A product not being tested on animals is great! But make sure that its truly cruelty-free by checking sites like Cruelty-Free Kitty. Furthermore, a product being cruelty-free doesn’t mean that it’s eco-friendly or free from toxic chemicals.
  • Dermatologist recommended – Which dermatologist recommended it? Were they paid for their endorsement, or are they affiliated with the company in some way?
  • Earth-friendly
  • Environmentally-Friendly
  • Ethical
  • Extracts
  • Gentle
  • Green
  • Herbal
  • Mineral
  • Natural
  • Naturally-fragranced
  • Non-toxic – Based on what criteria?
  • Oil-free
  • Organic (only if the product isn’t certified organic by a trusted agency like USDA)
  • Plant-based
  • Plant-derived / Plant-derived
  • Pure
  • Raw
  • Sensitive – Implying that the ingredients used might be less toxic than those without this label.
  • Sulfate-free

#9 – Free from…

While this belongs in the above section, it’s an important enough topic to give it more of a focus.

Be very suspicious of a product that has claims of “Free from…” on the packaging. This is almost always completely irrelevant and only meant to give the impression that the product is better than products from other competitors.

Example: Imagine a sunscreen that says “Free from mercury,” which might lead you to believe that other sunscreens have mercury in them, when in fact, no sunscreen on the planet does.

This tactic is also sometimes used to distract from the other harmful ingredients in the product.

Example: A sunscreen might say “Free From Oxybenzone,” which in itself may be accurate, but in reality, the product contains three other chemical sunscreens that are just as bad.


Although brands are trying to trick us with greenwashing, it’s not hard to avoid them if you know what signs to look for. Being aware of the tricks brands use makes it easy to avoid this misleading practice and allows you to purchase from only truly conscious brands.

Download our free swap guide.
A cheatsheet of 50+ clean alternatives for your whole house. 
Thank you for subscribing!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *