Like many other people, I like to buy cleaner, more eco-friendly products, but it is so hard knowing which products that we buy are actually doing good, because so many companies are greenwashing their products.

Greenwashing is defined as, “disinformation disseminated by an organization so as to present an environmentally responsible public image.” Which means companies are trying to sell consumers products by saying they are environmentally friendly when in fact they are lying, or their company is trying to distract from the fact that the company themselves are not actually eco-friendly.

A prime example of a company that most of us use is Dawn Dish Soap, in 2010 the Deepwater Horizon spill was the largest oil spill in U.S. history. Dawn came out with a commercial that showed them helping clean up wildlife animals that were covered in oil, they used sad music and cute little ducklings having the oil washed off with Dawn Dish Soap and every bottle purchased Dawn donated a $1 towards the clean up.

But little do people know that Dawn Dish Soap is petroleum-based, so they cleaned one oil off just to put another oil on it, increasing demand for petroleum and oil-based products around the country.

All the money that they spent on the commercials, Dawn could have donated it to a better cause towards the actual clean up. They greenwashed everything about that campaign and I fell for it, when I went to the store I thought, “the least I could do is buy this soap to help out with the oil spill.” blogs.stlawu.edu/greenwashingcritiques goes even more in-depth, listing the ingredients and how much the company greenwashed the situation.

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The problem does not stop there. It can be found in all different types of industries, including the food industry. According to crueltyfreeinvesting.org, Tyson Food Inc. is the second leading distributor of chicken, beef and pork in the U.S. It is also one of the leading greenwashing companies in the food industry.

On their packages they claim that they are “all natural” and some even say “free range.” In 2007, Tyson came out with chicken that was “raised antibiotic free,” which was a hit for their sales, but not less than a year later, the USDA announced that it was inaccurate and Tyson was sued by non-profits for using misleading tactics, you can find a list of all Tysons environmental and other violations at violationtracker.goodjobsfirst.org

In my environmental class I took in college my professor once said, “Be a skeptic -- if something is too good to be true, it probably is.” We live in a time when people want to change the way we do things in the world, and marketing companies are trying to use that momentum to trick consumers into thinking they are buying the eco-friendly products they want, when really they may be contributing to the problem.

I have learned that you have to check your sources when trying to be more environmentally friendly. When I go shopping and I want to make sure I am actually buying something that is a fair trade product from a fair trade business I check for eco-certified labels. When they are certified it usually means that they meet federal or international guidelines. The cool thing about the time that we live in is there are apps and websites that show what each company does and how much of a carbon footprint they leave.

When shopping, look for keywords like: sustainability, eco-friendly, good for the planet, socially responsible, biodegradable, organic and plant based. These are the words companies use to greenwash their brand or products.

Next time you go to the store to buy bug spray that says it's all natural, do your research and look at the back, ask yourself “if this is all natural, why does it have an ingredient list a mile long and say that it can cause blindness, rashes or even death?”

In the end, the safest way to make sure we have the purest products is by shopping at health food stores or local farmers markets, or growing and making products ourselves. But we also need to start calling out companies that use these tactics and make sure they are held accountable for spreading such misconceptions.

Hannah LaVigne is a multimedia journalist for the Pioneer. She can be reached at hlavigne@bemidjipioneer.com.