But Is It Really Eco-Friendly? 5 Tricks to Uncovering ‘Green’ Claims


Are eco-friendly claims always true? How do you tell if a company really is making a difference?

Peruse most any company’s marketing materials, and after you suspend disbelief, you’d most likely agree with them that the world simply couldn’t exist without their efforts in making the planet a better place. This has always been true, whether a brand was selling us their newest quick dessert mix that made Mom’s life easier, or they’re selling us the latest “eco-friendly,” or “green” household cleaner, mode of transportation or energy bar.

Unlike certifications for organic or Fair Trade foods, the U.S. does not currently have regulations on the use of popular terms including “natural,” “green” or even “eco.”  These companies are not just producing food, either. There are “responsible” fashion companies, car manufacturers, banks (really), investment firms, tech and entertainment companies, and so much more. But without any substantial definition of “green,” it’s no wonder people around the world are stumped when asked to name a socially responsible company.

But that doesn’t mean we should stop trying. Want to find out whether or not you’re supporting a truly green brand or getting greenwashed? Check out these tips:

1. B corporation: Although still a rarity, and not at all a defining factor, a B certification does require an impact assessment that can help a brand protect its sustainability mission by holding companies to standards including: social and environmental performance, accountability, and transparency.

2. Sustainability and CDP reporting: Does a company issue an annual sustainability report?  What about participating in the Carbon Disclosure Project? Triple Pundit says you can search the Global Reporting database and the CDP’s database to see if a brand has reported on its use of carbon, water and impact on the world’s forests.

3. Who owns them? While you might find a lot of great things about Honest Tea or Stonyfield Yogurt, did you know those brands are owned by some of the world’s biggest corporations? Some people see this as a step in the right direction and continue to support brands bought out by larger entities, but others see it as greenwashing—all the good being offset by the company’s other less green practices.

4. Shareholder resolutions: According to Triple Pundit, a company that is more responsible “will have a smaller number of shareholder resolutions if at all, and will work together with its shareholders to find agreeable solutions to the issues that they bring up through the resolutions.” You can use the Ceres database to see shareholder resolutions summaries on public companies.

5. Browse the forums: Consumer feedback can be really helpful in researching products and services. While it’s not necessarily as cut and dry as whether or not a company bought carbon credits, it can reveal a bit more about customer service and the day-to-day experiences with a company. Truly green brands tend to have very knowledgeable staff who also love their jobs.

Keep in touch with Jill on Twitter @jillettinger

Image: Ian Muttoo

Jill Ettinger

Jill Ettinger is a Los Angeles-based journalist and editor focused on the global food system and how it intersects with our cultural traditions, diet preferences, health, and politics. She is the senior editor for sister websites OrganicAuthority.com and EcoSalon.com, and works as a research associate and editor with the Cornucopia Institute, the organic industry watchdog group. Jill has been featured in The Huffington Post, MTV, Reality Sandwich, and Eat Drink Better. www.jillettinger.com.