How to Avoid Greenwashing in Wellness

How to Avoid Greenwashing in Wellness

There’s a plethora of confusing marketing jargon in the wellness industry that leaves customers confused and falling victim to purchasing not-quite-as-they-seem products. One of the most jarring aspects of ill-intentioned marketing is greenwashing—a branding trick that uses keywords associated with genuinely sustainable products to fool customers into believing the offering is more eco-friendly than it is. Greenwashed brands are tapping into the ever-growing trend of sustainability without evidence of their so-called green credentials. It can be challenging to know what red flags to look for when trying to decipher if your wellness purchase is truly sustainable. Here’s how to avoid greenwashing in wellness.

The wellness industry is all about encouraging folks to use natural products that will improve their quality of life. If a product touts green claims such as organic, all-natural, cruelty-free, and biodegradable but only provides vague information to support the claims, it’s likely clever greenwashing. Truly eco-conscious wellness brands will back up any claims about their sustainable practices by clearly outlining the company’s eco standards. They may also have carbon offsetting programs and charitable foundations.

Any product can say that it’s been made with organic ingredients as long as just one of the ingredients is organic. The same applies to products that claim they’re plant-based, all-natural, or grass-fed. If you can’t comprehend the ingredient list DM the company on social media asking them to explain exactly what is in the item and to verify whether or not all ingredients are organic, natural, or vegan. It’s also worth keeping in mind that cruelty-free is only about animal testing, it doesn’t imply that the product was made ethically nor does it assure that your purchase didn’t exploit workers.

In addition to confirming the ingredients, take into consideration the packaging of the product. Biodegradable packaging is a common form of greenwashing as not many of us have the industrial machinery needed at home to break down the biodegradable materials. A better option is compostable packaging that clearly states how long it takes to degrade in an at-home compost.

To avoid greenwashing, look for wellness brands that are authentically environmental stewards and that provide clear sustainability policies outlined on their website with a detailed FAQ explaining how the product is sourced, created, packaged, and shipped. Consider the distance the wellness product has to travel to arrive at your doorstep. It doesn’t do much good if something is truly made sustainably and eco-friendly but the packaging produces excess carbons from long-distance shipping. Many eco-conscious brands will utilize carbon-neutral shipping options from UPS and DHL.

The most assured way to feel confident that you’re making a truly eco-conscious purchase is to shop from wellness brands that have been vetted by a third-party organization such as certified Fair Trade, Fair Tax Mark, Certified Humane, or B-Corp. Third-party clean certifications include Leaping Bunny, COSMOS EcoCert, EWG Verified, and MyMicrobiome. The brands that have received this accreditation after meeting the rigorous criteria will proudly display the logo of the third party on their packaging or website.


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I was and am grateful for the opportunity to visit Bali, an island part of the Indonesian archipelago with just over 4 million people. The island is about 95 miles across and 70 miles north to south. It is a destination like none other, and one I would highly recommend visiting, but that’s a topic for a completely different article.

The moment you exit the airport, you encounter locals trying to make a days wage by picking you up and driving you to wherever you want to go. During your first car ride, motorbikes zoom around you, filling the streets, and appear to pay little attention to whatever traffic laws exist. I was shocked that I did not see an accident the entire time I was there, but maybe they just have far superior driving skills to those of Americans. Sidewalks are very small and almost non-existent, especially as you reach the outskirts of the major city, Denpasar.

As we journeyed out of Denpasar and towards Ubud (made famous by the movie Eat Pray Love), I couldn’t help but notice people burning their trash on the side of the road. I saw trash on fire in ditches and medium sized buckets ablaze, both sending smoke into the sky. It was a relatively small thing to notice for an “outsider” of the sustainability community, but I couldn’t help but ask certain questions. Why are they doing this? What’s the impact of burning these materials on the environment? On the air quality for the people? Why don’t they put the garbage out to be picked up and sent to a landfill and/or recycling facility?

I came to learn that on a relatively small island without modern recycling and waste disposal infrastructure, that many of us have come to take for granted in more modernized countries, people do what they have to. “Garbage Day” doesn’t exist there for private residences. So when the garbage fills up, Balinese households do the only thing that they can to get rid of it, throw it on the street or burn it. 40% of the 3,800 metric tons of garbage produced daily on the island is dumped on the streets, beaches and rivers, or incinerated.

Throughout my time in Bali, it became clear to me that the Balinese locals weren’t burning trash because they were unaware of the impact, it was simply the only way they could find to get rid of it. While I was out seeing various sights and in need of hydration, I would purchase a large bottle of water. Purchasing plastic bottles is something I try my best not to do anymore knowing that they are no longer being recycled (only 9% of plastics ever produced has been recycled); however, in Bali I wanted to avoid drinking tap water to prevent the possibility of getting sick from potential bacteria in the water.

I remember after finishing a bottle of water and stopping for lunch, I asked if they could dispose of my plastic bottle. When I did this, the local Balinese waiter looked at me like I was crazy. Ultimately, she took the bottle from me, but I could tell she was extremely reluctant in doing so. Later it dawned on me why she hesitated so much. She knew that there was no way for her (or the restaurant) to “dispose” of this bottle. They would likely have to burn it and burning plastic might possibly be one of the worst things for the environment. I felt horrible after having this realization, and throughout the rest of the trip I made a conscious effort to not buy plastic and to limit my footprint and impact on this island that was graciously providing me with the vacation of a lifetime. 

The Balinese people are amazing, and during my stay, I came to realize through my experiences that they are very resourceful and make use of every last bit of material that they can. From the way they use bamboo in their building construction, to how they weave various leaves into baskets and other products. I mean just look at this “floating breakfast” that was made for us where almost every material has been or was reused. The Balinese utilize composting and even reuse and repurpose glass bottles through a process called upcycling.

Another example is how they are taking empty beverage cartons and breaking them down to recycle the various parts. The paperboard (75%) is turned into recycled paper. The polyethylene plastic (20%) and aluminum foil (5%) are recycled into a roofing material called polyroof, which is a strong, durable and heat-resistant roof made from 100% recycled material.

Bali is an amazing paradise. Unfortunately, tourism and population growth is turning the “trash problem” there into an emergency situation. Waste Collection, Composting, and Waste Bank services are emerging to address the problem. Organizations like EcoBali are trying to educate the population further about the dire problem, but being on an isolated island, makes the problem all the more difficult to solve.

As we look to the future, governments, NGOs, international organizations, and each of us as individuals must address critical issues impacting the human race such as: climate change, population growth, pollution, and waste. Bali is an example of a relatively small, yet popular tourist destination surrounded by water, making many of these issues particularly critical.

Jeff Allen - Founder + CEO

Jeff Allen

Jeff is an avid entrepreneur, technologist, and eLearning expert. He is a graduate of Stanford University with a background in consulting, product management, leadership coaching, and learning & development. As founder and CEO of the WELL Learning Library, he has joined his passion for education with his passion for health & wellness. He is leading the expansion of the WELL Learning Library and furthering the educational offerings of the International WELL Building Standard, contributing to the health and wellness of human beings across the globe.