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Why companies greenwash Episode 05

In our last show we talked about new sustainability programs by Target and Walmart. This week we explain why so many companies still greenwash, which is the act of making products look more green and natural than they really are.


True natural consumers are still a small market segment

While the natural cosmetic market is a growing one it still represents only about 10-15% of the total cosmetic industry. So the biggest manufacturers won’t significantly change their best selling formulas just to get a piece of this smaller market. They will however, add an extract here and there to capture a portion of that market. Greenwashing at its best.

All-natural cosmetics do not work as well

It’s just a fact, when you restrict the palette of ingredients you can use to create your formulations, you are at a disadvantage against cosmetic formulators who don’t have those restrictions. Sure, you can make products that work, they just won’t work as well as the standard cosmetic products. And when it comes to what cosmetics consumers buy, there is no question. Consumers buy products that work. They might say they want all natural or green beauty products but this is secondary to their desire to have products that work.

Consumers don’t know the difference

Another factor that keeps greenwashing around is that consumers do not understand (or care) about the difference between greenwashed products and truly all-natural products. Unless a consumer has a degree in chemistry or otherwise has some insider knowledge about cosmetics, they will not know whether a product is greenwashed or not. They may learn what is greenwashed by reading something on the Internet but this will not be the majority of cosmetics. As long as the label looks like an all-natural product, most consumers will believe it.

Greenwashing keeps costs down

Cosmetic companies are in the business of making money. They may have secondary goals of sustainability or helping the planet but when it comes down to it Burts Bees is just as interested in making money as Proctor and Gamble. And there is no question that a greenwashed cosmetic costs less than an all-naturally formulated cosmetic. As long as profit is a motivation, greenwashed cosmetics will continue to be made.

There are no required standards

Finally, the fact that there are no official government standards for cosmetic product means that any company can pretty much make any product and call it natural. Maybe they can’t put a special organic seal or certified label but that doesn’t matter to most of the cosmetic buying consumers. Until there are governmental standards that everyone in the industry has to follow, there will be greenwashing.

But the bottom line reason why greenwashing will continue…It works (at least for now). And until sales of products that claim natural and organic without actually having to be, companies will continue to make those products.

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Buy your copy of It’s OK to Have Lead in Your Lipstick to learn more about:

  • Clever lies that the beauty companies tell you.
  • The straight scoop of which beauty myths are true and which are just urban legends.
  • Which ingredients are really scary and which ones are just scaremongering by the media to incite an irrational fear of chemicals.
  • How to tell the difference between the products that are really green and the ones that are just trying to get more of your hard earned money by labeling them “natural” or “organic.

Click here for all the The Beauty Brains podcasts.

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Miss Bio November 22, 2013, 12:33 pm

    Thanks for the post!
    Sadly, what you say is true.
    Companies will continue doing that because it works, despite it´s purely and simply lying to the consumer.
    But I have to say I totally disagree with one point!
    All-natural cosmetics actually works VERY WELL.
    Maybe you will need more time to get visible results…but when you get it, it´s a real result, because what you see is really your skin improving and not a film of silicone making it look better.
    Afortunately, and despite greenwashing, I sincerely believe we´re growing in the good direction, and each day there´s more consumers that take time to learn and care what they put on their skins.

  • Laura M. July 4, 2015, 11:46 am

    All that matters is making money. That is and will always be so . Nobody does anything for free.

  • msexceptiontotherule April 19, 2016, 1:28 pm

    I always have to repress the urge to say something flippant like
    “Actually, I’m looking for a product with ALL the chemicals likely to cause illnesses which will be terminal and not limited to cancer, painful and extended suffering with externally visible symptoms which make people recoil in disgust if they see me, and oh yeah can I get any deals if I buy in bulk? Thanks! Do you know when the shipment of ‘natural spring well’ water bottled in Flint will be here?”

    If I were to try and live my life according to all the scary reports and warnings to avoid this that and the other, wouldn’t be much of a life. I know that one day I will die – we all do, unavoidable until we can transfer our consciousness into robot bodies (I’m not expecting that to happen any time soon. Probably will die before it does anyway. Whenever it is.) and really…living every day to the fullest because I don’t know when that last moment will happen gives me so much more peace. No problem going out with a long practice of putting makeup that has chemicals in it on my face and eating food that contains GMOs.

  • Audrey May 31, 2016, 12:53 am

    From my personal experience I’ve had more luck with effective natural skincare products than with haircare products (although generally the natural conditioners work better than the natural shampoos). Is there any reason for this?

    • Randy Schueller May 31, 2016, 6:53 am

      It’s impossible to say because every company has its own definition of natural. We’d have to look at the ingredient list of each product to tell.