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Shopping sustainably: Here's how to avoid 'greenwashing' marketing tactics

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Posted at 6:52 AM, Jun 24, 2022

The environment is often talked about in scientific terms, but you don't have to be a scientist to feel emotion when you see images of pollution.

It's that emotion that can motivate people to look for products, whether it be home goods, clothes, or cosmetics, that are good for the environment.

Joy Fill, a zero-waste store in Denver, specializes in sustainable products.

“We focus on clean beauty products personal care, cleaning, and household goods for refill," says Joy Fill's owner, Brittany Iseli.

She says while a product may have colors and wording claiming to be good for the environment, it's on customers to do their own research. 

She says it's important to look up a product's ingredients, understand if its packaging is single-use plastic, and research a company's supply chain to see how much fuel it takes to get to a store's shelf. 

“I mean eco-friendly, sustainable can really mean anything," she says.

The Federal Trade Commission says companies that market their products as “green” and “eco-friendly” need to be telling the truth.

University of Denver business professor Jack Buffington said broad terms like “sustainable” can be hard to define and that opens the door for “greenwashing.”

“'Greenwashing' is officially defined as a plan of disinformation to convince a consumer it is more sustainable than it’s not,” Buffington says.

Kohls and Walmart have reached multi-million-dollar settlements with the federal government for selling home goods they said were made of bamboo when they were actually made of synthetic fiber this year.

Buffington worries companies with massive supply chains that rely on trucks, planes, and ships to move their products are too big to live up to promises like cutting down on carbon footprints because customers aren’t ready to handle the cost that would come with change.

“We blame the companies, but I think the consumer has to look in the mirror at themselves as well," Buffington says. “Consumers want to hear about products that are green, but they don’t necessarily want to pay the price for it yet.”

While the environmental issues of our time can't be solved overnight or just with one person, Iseli believes in doing our part.

“One person coming in and refilling their laundry soap is better than one person not doing that and if there are 100 people doing that, then you’re going to end ups being more changes from that," she says.