by Melanie Stewart

What is “greenwashing”? Even if you haven’t heard of the term, you’ve definitely experienced the practice.

The term greenwashing describes the practice of promoting a product or practice of any company, group, organization, person or government in a way that makes the consumer think that product or practice is “green” when it is not. If the company has spent more time or money claiming to be green than actually changing practices in order to minimize its impact, it’s engaging in greenwashing.

While greenwashing used to be uncommon, more people are looking for products and practices that are truly sustainable, healthy for their families, and kind to the environment. Some companies are willing to capitalize on that. With greenwashing, they can sell more products, confuse consumers into feeling good about the choices they are making, and create a pro-environmental feeling toward a company that wants to rehabilitate its image without

Melanie Stewart sustainability manager
Melanie Stewart
sustainability manager

changing its ways.

Sometimes it’s obvious: Company A states its Styrofoam cups are green because they create less waste by weight. (Note: Styrofoam occupies more space in the landfill and doesn’t break down, and it releases chemicals into your drink.)

Sometimes it’s obvious later, as in the recent discovery that Volkswagen purposefully modified cars to bypass emission control equipment except during emission tests.

Sometimes it’s really hard to tell. Some cleaning products are listed as green, biodegradable, and safe, but how do you know that it’s true? So what’s a consumer to do?

Think it through. Don’t be fooled by pictures of trees, green colored labels, and fancy gimmicks. Beware of false labels, vague statements, and tradeoffs. Be aware of certain labels, like “Green Seal,” and look for them.

Do a little research. Before buying, learn about company practices and use these resources too.

Keep in mind that consuming less is always green!

True sustainability is good for the environment, people, and the economy — a practice can be green and also serve another purpose. For example, energy curtailment helps to keep energy costs low on campus which saves tax dollars, but also keeps air cleaner because less coal is burned. This is why we consider the “triple bottom line” when making decisions at UNMC and Nebraska Medicine.

While greenwashing can be confusing, don’t avoid actual green products and services; there are many companies and groups sincerely committed to making the world a better place.

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