5 Ways to Beat the Greenwashing Game
When it comes to sustainability, false claims are everywhere. Here’s how to actually make sure the products you buy are as eco-conscious as manufacturers claim.
Sustainability is becoming trendy—and that’s not necessarily a good thing. Yes, consumers are demanding more eco-friendly products than ever before, and they are willing to pay more for products that do less damage to the environment. In response, some brands are radically shifting supply chains to utilize more sustainable materials and processes. But there’s one big issue: many companies aren’t willing to put in the legwork. Instead, these manufacturers tack eco-friendly buzzwords—organic, green, natural, etc.—onto packaging and charge a premium. The company profits, while consumers are left to sort out the truth behind vague marketing claims. This phenomenon is called greenwashing.
Why Greenwashing Matters
When you buy greenwashed products, you unknowingly support a system that disincentivizes companies from developing truly impactful solutions to the environmental crisis. But the planet isn’t the only one getting the short end of the stick. Greenwashed products can also be harmful to you.
According to Amy Ziff, founder and executive director of third-party verification company MADE SAFE, government agencies like the FDA and EPA don’t provide much oversight. In fact, they only ban about 14 chemicals known to be toxic to either humans or the environment. These same agencies permit companies to use thousands of other substances known to be dangerous. And many do.
The stakes are highest for products you interact with for hours each day, says Ziff. Mattresses are a great example. “We humans spend about one third of our lives sleeping,” she explains. “So, when people begin evaluating their lives for things that could cause [chemical] exposures, I tell them to start by cleaning up their sleep environment.” Many mattresses are coated with chemical flame retardants, which can seep into your skin over time (think: six to eight hours every night). Chemical flame retardants have been linked with a number of health issues, including neurological problems, hair loss, and organ toxicity. So, if you’re in the market for a mattress and want to avoid coming into contact with harsh chemicals, truth in marketing is crucial.
How to Outsmart Greenwashing
How can you tell which brands live up to their claims? These tips will help you shop in ways that align with your values.
1. Check for trusted third-party certifications. Whether you’re shopping for household products, outdoor gear, or furniture, look for seals of approval from independent third parties. These certifications are clear signals that brands are actually raising the bar for environmental and social responsibility—not just talking the talk. Some good certs to look for:
> Global Organic Latex Standard (GOLS) and Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS) verify organic content in products like mattresses and bedding. You’ll also want to check if the whole product is certified or just the materials themselves. This will be listed in the public database.
> B Corp Certification signifies that a business meets high social and environmental standards.
> Greenguard Gold guarantees low chemical emissions during production.
Some brands are certified in one or two of these categories. Others, like Avocado Green, have earned the sustainability stamp of approval across all four. All Avocado Green mattresses are verified by MADE SAFE, Greenguard Gold, Global Organic Latex Standard (GOLS) for the latex foam, and Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS) for the finished product. Plus, Avocado has earned B Corp status (and has a score of 126.2—well over the required minimum).
“Also look for valid certification numbers,” advises George Matthews, Avocado’s vice president of sourcing and certification. “When a company displays a certification logo without their entity’s corresponding number, you can pretty much assume they’re not getting audited annually, or that they’re not complying with the certification standards.” If the brand does show a number, look it up on the certifying body’s website to make sure it’s legit.
2. Seek out specifics. Vague platitudes should be regarded with suspicion. Does a “natural” material mean it’s “certified organic” or lab-tested to be safe for people and the ecosystems? If the product is “toxin-free,” which toxins make the list? Take Avocado’s new Eco Organic Mattress as an example. On top of being made with GOTS-certified organic cotton and wool and GOLS-certified latex, it’s made without chemical flame retardants. That’s possible because organic wool is quilted to the top of the mattress, Matthews says, creating a naturally flame-proof barrier. The mattress is also made without fiberglass or fossil-fuel-derived polyurethane foams. It doesn’t get much more specific than that.
3. Prioritize vertically integrated companies. Many brands do their best to prioritize eco-conscious materials, but global supply chains can be pretty murky. Companies that control their supply chains are better able to implement rigorous standards at every level. Avocado, for example, co-owns the farms and factories in India and Guatemala where its materials come from to ensure maximum quality control. “This lets us form strong, long-term relationships at each step of our supply chain,” Matthews says. “That way, we can ensure all of our partners are adequately supported and that they never have to take any shortcuts.”
4. Demand transparency. Brands worthy of your trust shouldn’t have anything to hide. That’s why Avocado uses cutting-edge blockchain technology to document the source of the materials it utilizes in its products. By 2024, Matthews says, all its wool and latex materials will be blockchain-verified, and Avocado will make that data freely accessible to any certifying body that asks for it. The brand also publishes an unflinchingly honest environmental impact statement each year.
5. Look for commitments to zero waste. Materials aren’t the only questionable aspect of greenwashing. Brands that truly care about the environment also work to limit the negative impacts of manufacturing processes. To that end, Avocado diverts 78 percent of its waste from landfills, as verified by third-party certifier Underwriters Laboratories (UL). It accomplishes this through responsible recycling and by upcycling leftover materials into its Zero Waste Collection. These actions have helped Avocado achieve recognition as a climate-neutral business.
Matthews says that, for Avocado, going climate-neutral is simply part of being a good global citizen. “We want to be a beneficial part of every community we work in,” he says. “We believe that when you go about simple things with passion, you really can make the world a better place.”
Avocado’s mission is to be one of the world’s most sustainable brands. It crafts certified organic mattresses, pillows, bedding, bath products, handmade furniture, responsible loungewear, and a skin and body line that are all better for people and better for the planet.