Four Festive Greenwashing Tactics (And Treewashing too!)


We’re fully in the seasonal swing now. If you’re organised you’ll have your travel arranged, your meals planned, and your presents sorted.   

Or, if you’re anything like us, you’re still adding to a very long to-do list! 

With many of us about to start dashing around looking for gifts for our nearest and dearest, lots of companies are ramping up the greenwashing in the hope of winning a spot under your tree. Here’s how to spot and arm yourself against their tactics.

Problem: “Recycleable” plastic

We’re all familiar with the sad sight: a pile of plastic packaging that sits next to the tree once the presents are opened. With plastic waste filling our land and seas, brands are rushing to promise that they won’t be adding to the pile, insisting that, even if it is plastic, their packaging is 100% recyclable. 

This means that, in theory, you could recycle the packaging, but it doesn’t guarantee you’ll be able to. If your council doesn’t have the right facilities (and access to recycling in the UK is wildly uneven) they’ll go to landfill or an incinerator. 

Solution: Shop around for gifts with less packaging in the first place. And for the necessary packaging, you can’t beat cardboard, which is recycled widely across the UK. 

Everything we make at Naked Sprout is already either recycled cardboard and kraft paper, or it’s made from ultra-sustainable bamboo. All of our packaging can be recycled in your paper recycling, and it’s so free from harsh chemicals that it’s all compostable too! 



Problem: Eco Branding and Buzzwords

More and more people are trying to minimise the environmental cost of their purchases. Brands know this, and it’s common to see words like “eco,” “environmentally-friendly,” and “ethical” popping up in product descriptions and marketing. Some companies use images of the earth or endangered animals to signal to environmentally conscious shoppers - we’re on the same page. 

There’s nothing wrong with pictures of animals, but they don’t mean anything on their own. If a brand is throwing out the idea of environmental responsibility, without giving details about what they’re actually doing to use resources in a responsible way, you need to wonder why.

Solution: If a company is talking the talk about sustainability, they should be able to prove they walk the walk. Ideally there should be certifications that support their claims, such as the FSC logo, the Living Wage Foundation, and B Corp certification

Online databases can provide a brilliant resource as well. The independent UK publication The Ethical Consumer maintains a database of brands in a range of sectors. After going through their processes (and coming top in their list of eco-toilet rolls) we can say that they’re thorough!

 

Problem: Greenlighting

Greenlighting is when a company takes great pains to highlight one ethical or eco-friendly aspect of their operations such as charity donations or tree-planting programs (more on that later), and avoids discussion of other aspects of their business.

We can see lots of examples of this in makeup and cosmetics - with brands that shine a spotlight on their vegan status, meaning that they don’t contain animal products and aren’t tested on animals. This is great, but many of these same brands are failing to mention the toxic chemical pollution that comes from their manufacturing - damaging entire ecosystems and all of the animals in them. And what about the people who work for them, are they being paid fairly, with good jobs? Human beings are animals too!

Solution: 

If you notice a company trying to keep discussion of their eco-credentials to one narrow section of their practices, that’s a great opportunity to change the subject. 

Companies who are truly doing everything they can to be ethical and sustainable will consider their whole supply chain in terms of fair labour, sustainable raw materials, CO2e reduction and pollution. They won’t be trying to limit discussion to just one thing. 

This is where B Corp certification can be a really helpful tool. B Corps are companies who have volunteered to be independently assessed across their operations as a whole. At Naked Sprout we are incredibly proud to be the highest-ranked toilet roll company with B Corp, and we’re only aiming to go higher. 

Problem: Offsetting and Treewashing

Gifts start their lives as products, and most products are made using fossil fuels. In the mid 00’s more environmentally conscious brands started to “offset” their climate debt by paying organisations to plant trees, in the hope that the carbon dioxide absorbed by these trees is enough to zero the balance. 

But the science of offsetting is dubious, to put it mildly. Greenpeace have described offsetting as a “greenwashing scam,” a way for large companies who are the biggest polluters to avoid the effort and expense of changing their processes and simply buy their way out of the PR issue. 

The Advertising Standards Authority in the UK have recently changed their guidelines around the use of offsetting claims, so fewer companies are boasting about being “carbon neutral”. But some of the same companies are still paying the same offsetting initiatives to plant trees in the hope that that planting trees, by itself, is enough to make customers overlook the polluting parts of their processes. It’s called Treewashing, and it’s growing! 

Solution:

Be wary of any product describing itself as “carbon neutral” or “carbon balanced”. And even if a company isn’t using those words, be wary of brands that emphasise tree-planting programs - often this means they know offsetting doesn’t cut it any more, but they’re still hoping to keep some of the green halo without actually changing their processes.

Planting trees is great but companies should be transparent about what their emissions are, and point to concrete steps they are taking to make them lower. In 2023 Naked Sprout became the first toilet roll brand in the world to include climate labelling on their products, and we want to see the rest of our industry follow suit. 

Conclusion

We all have plenty on our plates at this time of year. No company is perfect, and none of us are perfect shoppers either. But when it comes to greenwashing, a little extra awareness goes a long way. Hopefully, this rundown will help you see the red flags in amongst all the green, and give festive greenwashing the old heave ho-ho-ho! 

And when it comes to gifts, it’s always a good idea to run through the basics. Will the recipient enjoy this? Does it make you think of them? If we were to be very cheeky, we might even suggest you get them something absolutely 100% free of greenwashing, that you know they’ll use sooner or later…

Just a thought! 

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