• 11.13.14

Seven Ways That Companies Greenwash

The various sneaky things that companies do to convince you their products are great for the planet, when they really aren’t.

Every company under the sun has now realized they have nothing to lose by saying that their products are the cleanest, most environmentally friendly, and most socially responsible. If you’re looking to buy a product because you actually care about those things, it can make it hard to figure out what your options actually are. Or even, what’s true and what is not. This infographic breaks down some of the common tactics that less scrupulous companies use to trick you into thinking their products are making a difference.

The first, and simplest, approach is to make totally unsubstantiated claims. There are a bevy of organizations and government agencies that will verify if a company is actually using renewable energy, or organic ingredients. If you don’t see one of their logos on a product, you should proceed with caution. Similarly, don’t be fooled by false equivalents. Just because something is incredibly energy efficient, doesn’t mean it’s not bad in other ways.


There’s also some slippery lingo that goes on in the responsible product world, and some of it doesn’t mean what you think it should mean. An “all-natural product” could be filled with arsenic or formaldehyde.

And then there are the companies willing to straight-up lie to you, by putting fake organization logos on their packaging. They might also trumpet the approval of shady organizations, or make irrelevant claims about their product being healthy (for instance, a refrigerator manufacturer trying to get credit for their products being CFC-free. Since CFCs are banned by the government, that sets no one apart).

What can you do to avoid these traps? Besides being a smart and informed consumer, there are a few simple things to keep in mind. The infographic advises being especially careful in the electronics, DIY construction, toy, and household cleaning products categories, where many companies tend to make false or misleading claims about their products.

You can also try to memorize (or make a handy wallet-sized card!) some of the logos of the more reputable organizations that verify companies’ claims. They’re at the bottom of the infographic, which you can see here or below (click to zoom).

About the author

Morgan is a senior editor at Fast Company. He edits the Ideas section, formerly