When companies market a product as eco-friendly that might not necessarily be as “green” as they say, that’s known as greenwashing. A great example of this is boxed water — whether it comes in a plastic bottle or a carton, it still isn’t sustainable, and it shouldn’t be marketed as green.

There has been an uptick in greenwashing in recent years because companies know if they attach an emotional reaction to a product, it sells better. Greenwashing has been criticized by many, and for good reason, but I take a different view: I think it’s actually a good thing.

Paper or Plastic?

Yes, you read that right; I’m a greenwashing defender. Let’s take the boxed water example from above: It’s a plastic-lined paper box that has a plastic lid. Why would this be considered eco-friendly? The box is still trash that may or may not end up being recycled, and it’s topped off with a plastic lid that is not widely recyclable. However, I consider this a win for the planet in the war against plastic pollution. It’s not an overall solution, but it’s helping. The amount of plastic in a Boxed Water Is Better carton is considerably less than your standard single-use plastic water bottle.

Let’s Talk About Waste

Semantics aside, that little box is sparking curiosity. Why is boxed water better? This spurs consumers to ask the question of why that is printed on the outside of the box. This product is raising awareness every single time it is stocked on a shelf. Yes, it’s not the best option, but it’s not the worst, either. If we as a society are going to eventually become aware of all the trash we create, we have to adapt slowly and gradually, and I firmly believe products like boxed water are doing just that.

In researching an article breaking down every time a recyclable can be recycled, I found out that paper has a longer half-life than plastic. Furthermore, the brand Boxed Water Is Better makes their boxes out of 100 percent recycled materials, as do tons of other companies that manufacture things like toothbrushes, clothes and even plastic water bottles. All these products are helping to avoid brand-new materials being made. Yes, all these products will eventually end up in the landfill, but every time they are purchased, they are also avoiding putting another product in a landfill. Slow and steady will win this pollution race.

Normalizing Green Habits

The best way greenwashing is helping our society change over time is by making sustainability a normality. Right now, there are a lot of zero-waste or eco-friendly practices every single person could be participating in that are extremely easy, yet most don’t. Keeping a reusable water bottle in your purse or car takes almost no effort and will help this planet exponentially, so why isn’t everyone doing it? Because it’s not normal.

People are worried about contaminants or how they will be perceived walking around with it. I remember as a kid when single-use water bottles first became a thing and I was very confused. Only the kids who were unprepared used water bottles from a vending machine; it was weird and embarrassing, whereas it was cool to have your reusable water bottle with stickers. Fast-forward a couple of decades, and it’s completely the opposite.

We need to transition back into making reusables normal. Thanks to Tupperware parties, it’s now strange to have glass containers, even though they last longer, remain cleaner (read: unstained; thanks, marinara and turmeric) and are better for the environment. When consumers are walking around a supermarket, constantly seeing advertisements for eco-friendly products, it normalizes purchasing those products. You get a sense of pride when a company tells you their product is helping something or someone, and you’re more likely to purchase through that company again when you need that product. We are slowly becoming more and more surrounded by green public relations campaigns, and the more immersed in it we become, the more likely we are to not assume it’s weird. Outliers are weird, and an oversaturated greenwashing campaign will make choosing the planet normal, even effortless.

Greenwashing FTW!

The negatives of greenwashing are all over the internet, but I think we need to focus on the positives. We shouldn’t be persecuting every single person who does every little thing wrong for the planet; instead, we should be praising every single positive thing. Yes, the negatives will outweigh the positives for most of society, but that’s why we need this change. Small discounts at restaurants and coffee shops for bringing your own mug, even if it’s plastic, are helping curb plastic pollution.

We can change the world one piece of trash at a time, and greenwashing is the catalyst that will lead us to success. The next time you’re walking down a shopping aisle and there is an advertisement with blatantly annoying font and text size, claiming this product is the best eco-friendly option, remember to smile and thank that Comic Sans 42-point font for reminding every person that we need to make a change.

Feature photo courtesy of cdrin / Shutterstock.com


By Audrey Holmes

Based in San Diego, Audrey Holmes is on a personal journey toward zero waste. She admits to watching otter videos on YouTube way too much and having an unhealthy obsession with matcha. Speaking of green, read all about her zero-waste journey on her blog, Green Blue Marble.