Everything you need to know about "greenwashing": how to avoid it and why you should look for the organic logo
As the world faces increasing climate, nature and health crises, it is becoming more and more important for consumers to opt for products that support our planet. There's a clear interest in doing so, too. As our 2022 Organic Beauty and Wellbeing Market Report reveals, 55% of consumers have said they are more likely to purchase environmentally-friendly products now than before the pandemic. 38% of consumers have also stopped purchasing certain brands due to ethical and environmental concerns.
However, as the market becomes increasingly filled with brands that make “greenwashed” claims about their “eco” or “sustainability” credentials, how can consumers really be certain that the product they buy does not have a negative effect on the environment?
Read on to find out about how looking for the Soil Association Organic logo can help consumers navigate the crowded marketplace, and be assured that the certified products they buy are truly sustainable.
What is “greenwashing”?
Greenwashing is when “a company deliberately misleads shoppers into thinking a product is more sustainable than it really is”. A recent example is the banned Innocent Smoothie TV advert, which was not allowed to run as it falsely claimed that the product’s plastic bottles helped the environment. In a 2020 study, the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) found that around 40% of green claims were “suspect”, prompting them to launch an investigation into the issue.
Looking for the Soil Association organic logo is a great way to avoid greenwashing, though it operates differently in different markets. Below, we explain what our logo means in each sector.
How to avoid greenwashing in food and drink products
When it comes to organic farming for food and drink products, organic is a legally protected term, so products labelled organic must meet strict standards that are set in UK and EU law.
Our Soil Association Organic standards go beyond the legal minimum, and are stricter regarding animal welfare and environmental and wildlife protection. We were also trailblazers in developing organic standards for fish farms, wine production and livestock before these were enshrined into EU law.
This is where organic certification hugely differs from the vague claims sometimes made by other brands about the sustainability and eco-friendliness of their products, that can fall under the umbrella of greenwashing. "Many supermarket brands show animals outdoors on their marketing, but only certification labels can guarantee that strict rules are being met for caring for animals," one of our certification experts, Sophie Robinson, puts forward to illustrate. "Organic has the strictest standards for giving animals a good life. Organic vs. free range eggs is another good example – flocks can be up to 16,000 even under RSPCA assured, compared to 3,000 in organic."
Now is a great time for the organic industry, with sales at the highest level they have ever been. The market experienced growth of 5.2% in 2021 and is now worth over £3bn. You can read more about the current market trends by downloading our 2022 Organic Market Report.
How to avoid greenwashing in beauty and wellbeing products
Greenwashing is arguably an even bigger problem in the beauty and wellbeing sector. This is because, unlike food and drink, the term “organic” is not legally regulated in this field. In Sophie Robinson's words to the Telegraph, “it is therefore possible for a company to claim a product is organic even if there is only 1% organic ingredients. Certification logos are the only guarantee that the product meets the claims made by the label.”
Beauty and wellbeing products that are certified by the Soil Association to the COSMOS Organic standard must contain at least 20% overall organic ingredients (10% for wash off products). 95% of the product’s PPAI ingredients - which are ingredients from agriculture that have gone through a physical process such as crushing - must be organic. A product certified to this standard is guaranteed to have gone through checks on sustainability from the farm the ingredients are grown on, to the processing and packaging facilities, as these must all be inspected and certified by us. Looking for products with the Soil Association logo therefore ensures the product meets the gold standard of sustainability.
It is also worth looking at the Soil Association’s list of “Terrible Ten” ingredients in beauty products. These are ingredients that are included in some products claiming to be “organic” that would not be allowed under the COSMOS Standard, due to some of their side effects on both human and environmental health that have been found in research.
As with the food market, the certified organic beauty and wellbeing market is experiencing strong growth. Sales of certified products grew 15% in 2021 and the market is now worth £138m. Our 2022 Organic Beauty & Wellbeing Market Report also found that consumers are becoming more aware of greenwashing, and while 52% of consumers surveyed do not trust brands to be honest about their environmental impact, 42% said they would be encouraged to see a brand as more sustainable if it had third party certification proving its standards. You can read more by downloading the report here.
The other advantages of choosing to support certified organic brands
Organic systems fall under the umbrella of "agroecology" - nature-friendly principles that are better for the planet, wildlife and people. If all of Europe’s farmland adopted these principles, greenhouse gas emissions could drop by 40 - 50% by 2050!
Organic farmers work closely with nature wherever possible, and are encouraged to make use of their local environment to deal with on-farm challenges rather than relying on harmful synthetic inputs. They thus directly impact our natural landscapes in a positive way. On that note, organic farms provide a haven for wildlife to thrive, with plant, insect and bird life proving to be up to 50% more abundant on organic farms.
It’s possible to find organic certification across a range of industries, too. Along with a variety of products, the Soil Association also certifies forests around the world to the FSC and PESC standards for sustainable forests. As our Head of Forestry, Kevin Jones, states, we are “one of the world’s top FSC certifiers… [covering] over 27 million hectares – a total area greater than the size of the UK.”
There are a lot of reasons to trust organic, then… especially as, along with following a strict set of standards, organic certified brands are always looking for new ways to be more sustainable! Many organic brands, for instance, are often at the forefront of packaging innovation, with many trialling biodegradable forms of packaging and refill schemes such as the certified organic beauty brand, UpCircle. Ultimately, you know that when you are investing in organic, you’re often investing in people who go above and beyond to think of innovative ways to protect our planet.
Where to source products that are truly better for the planet
As well as buying organic, to live sustainably it’s important to shop locally!
There are a lot of ways to do this well, including by signing up to box schemes and getting to know your local producers. When shopping online, it’s also easy to look up the credentials of the products you buy, and find producers that are closer to home.
You can find your local independent retailer or organic box scheme on our website.
Other things you can do to live a more authentically “green” lifestyle
There are plenty of ways you can take up a more sustainable lifestyle. If you’re green-fingered, you could begin by growing your own produce, or even your own herbs if you live in a more urban area. Get inspired by the pledges on our website, and take the ones that resonate with your green ambitions… including, of course, by pledging to purchase certified and organic products where possible! Your support for the industry goes a long way.