Greenwashing in the beauty industry: What it is and how to be mindful of it

As more and more and consumers begin to voice their concerns about sustainability and the environment, brands have started taking note. While some choose to actually implement changes in their formulations, packaging, supply chain, and corporate practices, others are simply focussing on marketing themselves as ‘green’ or ‘sustainable’ without doing any of the grunt work.

In this blog, let us take a look at what greenwashing really is and how to effectively spot it. 

What is greenwashing?

To put it simply, greenwashing refers to any activities or behaviours that may make a company or a brand seem more environmentally-friendly or sustainable than it really is. Greenwashing is a sad reality of the beauty industry. What is worse is that it negates the efforts of those companies that are actually putting in an effort to become more sustainable. 

To add to the problem is the fact that well-intentioned consumers are knowingly misled into making purchases they may consider sustainable.  

This is an image of what is greenwashing

Green marketing vs Greenwashing

There is some confusion around the difference between ‘green marketing’ and ‘greenwashing’. So here’s the thing - if greenwashing was truthful, it would be green marketing. Green marketing refers to marketing initiatives and tactics that reflect the truly positive changes companies have made that are more sustainable and environmentally-friendly. It is honest and transparent. The polar opposite of what greenwashing is and does. 

Greenwashing in the beauty industry

While greenwashing is a problem across industries, it makes a sizable contribution to the beauty industry too. While consumer awareness is definitely at a high, there is still a lot of grey area that companies take advantage of. Let us take a look at how. 

Natural vs Clean vs Organic

The beauty industry has experienced another movement in recent times - one that advocates for ‘Clean’ Beauty. Clean Beauty talks of using safer ingredients that are better for the environment and for users. But this is a good thing, right? The trouble is that terms such as ‘clean’, ‘natural’, etc. are not regulated. That essentially means that any company can essentially come up with its own definition of clean and natural.

But for your ease of understanding, we will break these terms down for you:

This is an image of the difference between natural, clean and organic

The trouble with terms such as ‘natural’ and ‘clean’ is that they are not clearly regulated. And this presents room for greenwashing. 

Since there is such confusion around these terms, people often tend to assume that ‘clean’ is also ‘natural’, and that ‘natural’ is ‘organic’ and vice versa. This may or may not be true. It is the perception that brands play with.

The Cruelty-Free Debate

Now here are a few things people tend to assume:

  1. If a product is natural, it is cruelty-free
  2. If a product is clean, it is cruelty-free
  3. If a product is organic, it is cruelty-free

Now here is the hard truth - none of these 3 is necessarily true. One tends to assume that just because something is ‘clean’ or ‘natural’ or ‘organic’, it is cruelty-free thanks to the super cute packaging with a green theme or cute animals drawn over it. All this makes you think it might be cruelty-free when it really is not. This is greenwashing. Brands simply take advantage of the perception (again) that such products are cruelty-free! 

This is an image of the cruelty free assumptions

How to Spot and Avoid Greenwashing

So now that you have a sound understanding of what greenwashing in the beauty industry looks like, what are some ways in which you can spot it? Well, here are some pointers for you to keep in mind: 

1. Look for certifications

If a brand claims to be ‘organic’, ask them about their certifications. Are they certified by COSMOS Ecocert? If so, there are a lot of things being covered here - from supply chain to product packaging. If not, get the brand to explain to you why they are not certified. It is important to grasp why a brand might not have certifications.

2. Clear the stance on cruelty-free products

In India, animal testing is banned so any product you pick up will essentially be cruelty-free. But for brands internationally available, check for the PETA’s bunny label, the leaping bunny logo or the other cruelty-free labels to verify that the brand is truly what they say they are.

3. Look at the ingredients and do your own research

There is a lot of information available today regarding products, formulations, and ingredients. Ultimately, you are the judge of what works for your skin. You might enjoy using fragranced skincare while some will not like it. So do your research before buying a product. Have any doubts? Ask your dermatologist or reach out to the brand on social media.

4. Do your bit

Consumer participation is key to getting rid of greenwashing. If you think a brand is indulging in such a practice, talk about it on social media. Confused by what a brand’s terminology means? Ask them about it! Ask as many questions as possible. 

This is an image of how to stop greenwashing

SUMMARY

Greenwashing is a menace that has begun to take over the beauty industry and does serious damage to brands that are truly sustainable and are trying to be more environmentally-conscious. As a consumer, the best thing you can do is to ask questions. Ask brands about the certifications they have, what they are doing, and give them feedback.

- Gauri Sindhu

 

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