Greenwashing: Green Products May Not Be as Green as You'd Think


If you haven't heard the term greenwashing yet, you're in for a big surprise. The term greenwashing refers to a manufacturer or service provider who claims their product or service is green, but once you look behind the scenes, it's anything but. The sad reality is millions of people across the globe are being duped into spending extra money on "green" products that aren't green at all.

Let's take a look at a handful of industries that have been caught red-handed.

"Natural" Foods

You've undoubtedly seen food labels claiming the products inside are "all-natural" and "made with natural ingredients." This may have led you to believe you were actually buying foods that were completely natural and were good for you. You may have even thought you were purchasing organic foods made from ingredients that hadn't been treated with chemicals or genetically modified.

The reality is nothing could be further from the truth.


While foods labeled as "organic" are strictly controlled and there are a number of regulations governing what does and doesn't qualify as organic, the term "natural" or "all-natural" is a greenwashing gimmick that is all but meaningless. Foods labeled as "natural" aren't allowed to contain synthetic or artificial substances, but they are allowed to contain genetically modified ingredients and highly processed ingredients like high-fructose corn syrup.

When it comes to meats, "natural" only means no artificial ingredients have been added to the meat after slaughter. The animals could have been, and often are, fed a diet of GMO feed like corn and soy. If you want the real deal, skip the "natural" meats and find pastured, organic meats instead.

In one of the most blatant cases of greenwashing we've seen, Tyson was recently told to stop labeling chicken as "raised without antibiotics" after admitting to injecting unhatched chickens with antibiotics. Tyson argued the chickens are raised without antibiotics because the antibiotics are injected before they hatch.

Greenwashed Cosmetics and Personal Care Products

Personal care products are another industry where greenwashing is common. Shampoos, conditioners and soaps are often sold under the "natural" or "green" label, but contain ingredients that are anything but. Don't fall for labels that use marketing terms like "natural", "botanical" or "eco-friendly." These terms are largely unregulated and the products may still have ingredients in them that are hazardous.

Instead of trusting that a product is natural, look at the label. Here are some ingredients to look for that may be harmful to your health:

  • Sulfates.
  • Triclosan.
  • BHA.
  • BHT.
  • PED compounds.
  • DEA.
  • MEA.
  • Triethanolamine.
  • Parabens.
  • Siloxanes.
  • Methicones.

Generally speaking, if an ingredient sounds like a chemical compound, it probably is. It helps to remember that many products labeled as "natural" only contain a small handful of natural ingredients. The rest are synthetic chemicals.


Certain hotel chains make an effort to market themselves as engaging in green practices to help save the environment. The reality is this often amounts to little more than simply placing a placard in each room asking guests to reuse towels, sheets and blankets. An independent study commissioned by TerraChoice Environmental Market recently found that hotels aren't living up to their "green" marketing and that the products and services they claim to be green aren't as green as you might think.

Household Cleaning Products

Household cleaning products are one of the biggest greenwashing offenders in existence today. A trip down the household cleaning products aisle of any grocery store or retail supercenter will reveal an amazingly-large collection of household cleaning products that have green labels and claim to be "natural", "biodegradable" and/or "green."

These products may contain a natural ingredient or two, but they often contain harmful chemicals that are about as natural as Pamela Anderson's chest. To add insult to injury, some products like disinfectant wipes are labeled as biodegradable because the material the wipe is made from is indeed biodegradable, but they contain a number of chemicals in the cleaning solution.

How to Tell If a Product Is Greenwashed

In order to tell if a product truly is green or has simply been greenwashed in an attempt to fool the average consumer, one must look past the advertising and the front label. Check the ingredient listings to see what is actually in a product before you buy it. If you aren't sure about something look it up. Once you start checking the ingredients, you'll be shocked by how many products are simply greenwashed instead of actually being green.