What is Greenwashing?

As we have discussed previously, “Natural” in cosmetics does not have a standardized definition or universal regulations.  Different brands have varying interpretations of what constitutes a natural product, leading to a degree of subjectivity and potential greenwashing.  Greenwashing in the Personal Care/Cosmetics industry refers to the deceptive marketing tactics used by beauty and skincare brands to portray their products as more environmentally friendly, natural or sustainable than they truly are.  This practice aims to appeal to consumers who prioritize eco-friendly products and/or sustainability.  In many cases this can lead these consumers to believe they are making responsible choices when purchasing these items.


Examples of greenwashing in the Personal Care/Cosmetic space include:


1. Misleading labels: Brands using terms like organic or green without providing substantial evidence or certifications to support the claims.  If in reality only a small percentage of ingredients are highlighted, it may create the impression that most or all of the product is natural.


2. Vague Terminology: Using ambiguous or unregulated terms like clean beauty, eco-friendly or natural without a clear definition of what these terms mean in the context of their products.  The lack of clarity allows companies to market their product to consumers somewhat deceptively without having to abide by a specified set of guidelines or regulations.


3. Exaggerated Claims: Making bold statements about the environmental benefits of the products without the necessary testing to provide verifiable evidence, information about sourcing, production methods or disposal practices.


4. Selective Emphasis: Brands highlight a single eco-friendly aspect of their product, such as derived from natural origin, while downplaying other potentially harmful ingredients or unsustainable packaging practices.


5. Packaging Deception: Utilizing eco-friendly or natural-oriented packaging or imagery to create a facade of environmental friendliness, even if the finished good inside is no different from any other conventional cosmetics.  This can lead customers into believing they are making sustainable choices from the packaging appearance when in fact they are not.


Recognized certification seals on packaging like USDA Organic, Eco-Cert/COSMOS Organic or Natural, MADE-SAFE and cruelty-free (ie. Leaping Bunny) help to identify authentic brands among the ever-changing definition of Natural Products.


To bring an end to greenwashing it is essential to educate consumers about these tactics and have greater transparency on all fronts of supply chain including manufacturing processes and ingredient sourcing.  In addition, supporting third-party certifications and pushing for stricter regulations (and enforcement) industry-wide to prevent misleading marketing practices will help ensure companies substantiate their green claims.