On episode 11 of the Messy Middle Road Trip podcast, I talked about greenwashing, including what it is, how can you identify it, and why it’s important to avoid it. It’s important to know the difference between truly non-toxic products and products that claim to be “healthy,” but include tons of harmful ingredients.

Raise your hand if you’ve ever purchased something for you or your family solely based on the label? Did it use words like “eco-friendly” or “natural,” maybe even “hypoallergenic”? It might have had a picture of a smiling baby or green leaves. How does that make us feel? Comforted. Safe. Smart because we’re buying a product that is good for us and the environment. We might even pay a little more to purchase those green products.

Manufacturers are manipulating us with Greenwashing, and the majority of us are blissfully unaware. In order to understand why this is such an epidemic, we need to talk about what it is. Greenwashing is when a company spends more time and money claiming to be green through advertising and marketing instead of putting measures in place to minimize their environmental impact. They do it because GREEN sells. Did you know that over 87% of consumers will spend money on a sustainable brand and 75% will refuse to purchase from a company that supports an issue contrary to their beliefs? I’ve totally bought products because I believe in their mission or message. Buy one pair of socks, and donate a pair to a homeless person for example. Or purchase a bracelet that cleans up 1 pound of plastic in our oceans.

Oftentimes, you will see contradictory practices. For example, a “green” cosmetics company made in a facility that pollutes the river it sits on. Or claims that dish soap can safely remove oil residue from a duck that was caught in an oil spill, without mentioning that there are carcinogenic petroleum-based ingredients in that soap. You might see attractive pictures of mountains, lakes, and wildlife on plastic water bottles while every minute, one garbage truck worth of plastic is dumped into the ocean.

Here are a few examples of greenwashing slogans:

“A hint of nature with the protective power of (toothpaste brand).” This toothpaste company added the word Naturals to the brand along with green tea extract and lemon oil in an effort to convince us that it’s greener.

How about the word Gentle when it comes to baby products?

“We want to help shape a healthy and sustainable planet. For you, and for your baby.” we believe in the immense, transformative power of gentle in the world. Of being gentle with our children, and with their dreams and ambitions.Gentle with each other.Gentle with the earth.Gentle with our words and thoughts and actions.Gentle means safe. Gentle means pure. Gentle means confident.Gentle means happy.

That’s why everything we make, everything we do and everything we stand for is as gentle as you want the world to be.

This company admits that they removed over 50 harmful ingredients including parabens, phthalates, colored dyes and sulfates but claim they were always safe because science is on their side. That’s alarming to think that I used these products for a decade on both my girls with all the harmful ingredients included.

Another marketing slogan is:

“Our products smell like a garden, yet clean like the dickens.” This line of products is part of a collaborative green push, marketed to moms that want one-stop shopping delivered to their door. I get it! That weekly trip to the grocery store with little monkeys can turn into a 3 ring circus. Just because your favorite you tuber is hawking a product doesn’t make it safe.

That goes for celebrities that agree to back a product with advertising campaigns. They are consumers just like us and can be greenwashed just like us.

So how do you avoid being Greenwashed? It’s our job to become ingredient detectives. We don’t have to be experts, and you shouldn’t have to have your PHD in Biochemistry in order to buy laundry detergent. You do have to make a decision to become educated one ingredient at a time. Just like we train ourselves to read the labels on food for things like sodium, sugar or anything artificial…we need to do that with personal care and cleaning products. It will take time and practice. I’m just over 3 years into my label reading journey and There are still 7 syllable ingredients I read today and have no clue what they are or why they’re in my product.  

Just because something is slightly greener doesn’t mean it’s safe. Remember, the FDA has no oversight or control as to which products can and cannot be released for sale in the US. Here in the states, companies are only required to ban 11 harmful ingredients. 11. It’s up to us as consumers to do our research and make safer choices. There are some of you listening that might think, Nicole, you’re crazy. I don’t have time for that. I was one of those people. If it was on sale or on an end cap with a green tree and words like pure and effective on the label, it was added to my cart. I didn’t have time to research. I was busy raising a family while juggling a career and managing a household. It wasn’t until I was diagnosed with an autoimmune disease that the importance of clean products even hit my radar. And it took years before I was ready to really listen and make healthier changes. At the end of the day, we make time for the things that matter to us. We can change our behavior if we keep an open mind and don’t judge ourselves harshly for things we simply didn’t know.

I have two daughters that were exposed to a decade of harmful ingredients before I became aware of the need to be vigilant with my choices. I often wonder if my younger daughter would have less sensory issues or if my exposure to greenwashed products had anything to do with my miscarriage. I cannot change the past but I can advocate for change now with speaking up and sharing what I know with others. I can be the pebble that creates the ripple with more and more people becoming aware and making informed choices. That is my hope for you today. Taking the time to listen to the podcast or read this blog post, you are one step closer to making informed decisions.

So how do you get started? Click HERE to get access to a pocket guide of harmful ingredients to avoid. In the meantime, here are 5 things you can do right now.

1)      Flip that bottle around and start reading your labels. (My top 5 to avoid are Fragrance, Parabens, SLS, Aluminum, Synthetic color or dye.) If your “green” product contains any of these, it’s a sign of greenwashing.

2)      Research who owns the brand. Many manufacturing companies purchase smaller, green, niche product lines and absorb them. The sad news is that they usually change the formulations in the process and add harmful ingredients to make a profit and the consumer is unaware. So many mom and pop companies have been bought out. The information is public if you search.

3)      Make informed decisions. Once your eyes are open to the magic of marketing, choose products that are right for you and your family. I decided to swap out all of it but my family is slower to agree to that. Change is difficult but agreeing to take baby steps is moving in the right direction.

4)      Be aware that Pinkwashing is also an issue during the month of October. Simply because a product is adorned with a pink ribbon, that doesn’t guarantee it’s safety. Many companies use this as an opportunity to market their products to align with a cause, however, if their product contains carcinogens, the company is part of the problem.

5)      Don’t blame yourself.  We don’t know what we don’t know. We aren’t taught to read labels and understand what’s in our products. We assume that manufacturers are doing the right thing and providing us with safe, effective products. Tomorrow is a new day and you can effect change for you, your family and our planet by making a commitment to find truly green brands that you grow to trust.

I hope you feel inspired to flip those bottles around to become an ingredient detective to avoid being greenwashed.