Every year in April, something happens that seems to make sense and fill hearts with hope. Earth Day is on April 22 this year. Like every other year in recent memory, expect to see a lot of brands that suddenly want you to know how much they care about the environment, how they’re dedicated to cutting their carbon emissions, and how they’re donating to ecological causes.
We’re not getting on our soapbox today to talk about these sellers who truly do the best they can with the resources available to them. We’re here to talk about greenwashers and what you can do to not be one. Don’t be nervous; it’s all relative to your personal situation as an Amazon seller!
Our hope is that we can give you, an Amazon seller, some ideas you can use to make your business more ecologically transparent, eco-conscious, and trusted by your customers. We’ll talk about the tangible benefits this can have for your business and long-term growth. And we’ll also talk about why there’s plenty of reason to be optimistic, and how you can avoid sinking into climate doomism.
What Is Greenwashing?
Greenwashing (noun): expressions of environmentalist concerns especially as a cover for products, policies, or activities. [Merriam-Webster]
Greenwashing is an act of misrepresentation where you exaggerate, fabricate, or omit information to make your product or business seem more eco-friendly than is actually true.
In other words, it’s a specific type of lie. Some sellers lie on Amazon to make money and because they believe, correctly or incorrectly, that they can get away with it.
Many sellers and companies are sincere. They do right by their statements to the best of their abilities with a manufacturing status quo that doesn’t make it easy. Some deliver big time with products that are truly recyclable, compostable, minimally packaged, or made from sustainable materials.
There are also lots of sellers out there who would love to push more eco-friendly products, but they’re running a small business, and they might not have the financial or logistical privilege to secure cutting-edge eco-plastics or the services of a more forward-thinking packaging manufacturer. It could also be that they don’t have the informational or educational privilege to know how their product impacts the environment. We can’t judge these individuals for doing the best they can to put food on the table.
For the focus of this blog, we also won’t fault companies who have room to grow in eco-friendliness but don’t try to obscure the facts around their product.
The greenwashing definition isn’t just about being “not eco-friendly.” It’s being not eco-friendly and hiding that truth from consumers with premeditated intent.
Why Everyday People Care About the Environment
You can resist change on an individual level, but the public has spoken. We are collectively working towards a more environmentally friendly, sustainable, and healthy world. As awareness, advocacy, and sheer necessity increase, so does the demand for ecological responsibility. Shoppers are getting pickier and more discerning every day. They’re becoming more willing to inconvenience themselves for the cause. Isn’t it telling that nonstick pans, a longtime mainstay of households in the developed world, are becoming less popular due to their negative impacts?
If you want to be successful selling on Amazon, you have to be mindful of the concerns and emotions of the shoppers you’re selling to. Ignoring eco-conscious shoppers was easy 20 years ago. But things are changing rapidly. Will you keep up with the times? If you want your business to remain sustainable over the next 20 years, product sustainability should be on your mind.
Why Amazon Sellers Should Care (a Lot)
You might wonder, “Why should I commit to this struggle? Will I even see the benefits of this in my lifetime? How does this help my business?” Those are great questions, and there’s a great saying to answer them:
“Blessed are those who plant trees knowing that they shall never sit in the shade of their foliage.” – Hyacinthe Loyson
There are lots of versions of this quote out there, but they all say the same thing. You plant the tree as an act of hope because you’re part of something bigger than yourself. You do it because someone else planted trees for you.
But you’re here for answers as a businessperson. A more tangible reason for you to care is that it’s good for your long-term growth. If you’re thinking even a year or 2 ahead, eco-friendliness should factor into your growth strategy.
To summarize, doing your part in working towards greener industry isn’t just the right thing for the environment; it’s the right thing for you and your customers, as well as your business now and in the future.
Common Greenwashing Examples and Pitfalls
- There are 2 types of compostable plastic. One can be thrown in a backyard compost pile and will reliably degrade and disappear in ambient conditions. The other requires more encouragement to break down and needs to be sent to an industrial composting facility.
- You should be absolutely 100% clear about where your product stands, and what it takes to get the plastic to compost. As marketers, we’re hardwired to sell convenience, but doing so with compostable bags has stalled the performance of numerous Amazon sellers.
- It’s critical to acknowledge the recycling industry's reality in the market you’re selling to. People in places like Germany, South Korea, and Singapore can recycle things that most recycling centers in the US can’t accept or don’t have the funding to process.
- If you’re an international seller looking to break into the US market, be wary of mixed materials, problematic plastic types, and sorting issues. Google “wish cycling in the USA” to find out what kinds of recycling struggles we have here.
- False Blanket Statements
- Eco-friendliness is a spectrum. The fact that the cardboard box your product comes in is recyclable does not make your product eco-friendly. If you make supplements with sustainable palm oil, your product is only sustainable as a whole if all its ingredients are.
- Just because you meet an organization’s standards for a certification doesn’t mean you are certified, or that you can claim that your product is backed by someone else. There are certain steps that must be taken to earn credibility.
- Making a truly eco-friendly product and ruining it with non-eco-friendly accessories
- Here’s a hypothetical: Let’s say you make cookware out of recycled aluminum cans (Planet Pans: Pans with a Plan). It’s all metal, with no plastic or silicone bits, and no nonstick coating. You play this up, highlighting your material choices, product recyclability, the health benefits of a non-coated pan, and your business's eco-philanthropy. But then you make a critical error; you decide your product needs to be differentiated more, so you inflate the perceived product value by packing it with “bonus” plastic cooking utensils. You just increased the carbon footprint, microplastic output, and waste associated with your product by quite a bit.
- Oversimplifying or omitting pieces of the truth
- When greenwashing happens, it’s usually through oversimplification or omission. Be transparent. Eco-conscious folks would rather buy from a non-eco-friendly seller who is honest than from a greenwasher.
What Can You Do Today?
Before you act, you need to think. Figure out where your products and your business stand, and make sure you’re representing yourself accurately. Manage expectations and keep your Amazon brand reputation clean by being honest with shoppers.
You can also ask your shoppers what they want in an eco-friendly product. There are plenty of very opinionated folks who would be more than happy to tell you all about their favorite eco-friendly product materials and features. Plus, by surveying your customer base, you can establish and prove substantial demand, which might help you in conversations with investors and other partners.
Perhaps the most important thing to think about is your mindset. This is even more true when you’re dipping your toes into the challenging waters of eco-friendly Amazon commerce. Read and think about ecological issues, advancements, and discoveries and try to relate them to your everyday life. Being eco-friendly is a skill that you can study, practice, and then apply to your business practices.
What Can You Do Tomorrow?
Now that you have a better understanding of your Amazon products as they relate to the environment, you can start planning for action. Your future progress might be slow or frustrating. Remember that folks like to say they “fight for the environment.” Being an Amazon seller, you’re on the front lines of one of the most active and problematic battlegrounds: online consumerism. It really is a fight, sometimes.
If you’re looking to revamp your Amazon product line, the best place to start is probably going to be some research. Check out these eco-friendly companies that have excellent reputations and customer confidence:
While reviewing these brands, ask yourself questions, such as:
- What do they do?
- How do they do it?
- What materials are they using?
- How is it packaged?
- What are the shipping implications?
- What ecological weaknesses do they still have?
- Are there any articles, message boards, or viral tweets indicating that the company is greenwashing?
By studying the leading eco-friendly Amazon sellers, you can see what the current reasonable upper limits of green industry are. Dig deep to find these sellers and the manufacturers they source from; remember that these companies are still fighting to take attention away from big, global, corporate polluters with massive marketing budgets and leadership boards resistant to change.
Don’t try to change everything all at once. Start small, with something attainable. Make each change sustainable.
- Rethinking your packaging and shipping can be a good place to start. Getting a new cardboard die-cut design or setting up bulk options (for lower emissions from shipping) is easier than creating an entirely new product.
- Cut bundles that don’t make sense. Remember the example about the recycled cookware that came bundled with a cheap plastic bonus item? If the items are sold together but packaged separately, you might be able to sell out the bonus items and not restock them.
- Focus on and update 1 product at a time. Give your full attention to executing an update that is environmentally beneficial, as well as beneficial to your business. The things you learn and the contacts you make from updating 1 product will give you a head start on the others.
- Get trustworthy certifications and work with Amazon to be able to talk about them. Amazon is really picky about certifications, for good reasons. Amazon sellers sometimes play fast and loose with this type of language. The extra red tape is worth the accomplishment though. You’ll get to display icons and badges that eco-conscious shoppers look for, and you might even get an in-house Amazon certification that displays as its own badge and makes your listing appear in specific product searches.
- Speak out! Visibility matters, and even a passing eco-conscious comment (or blog) here and there can nudge things this way or that.
Eco-conscious business is relatively new. We can give you these ideas, but you might need to get creative in finding solutions that are right for your business. Keep at it, and don’t give up. You’re on the crest of a new wave here.
It’s impossible to predict where you, your business, and your Amazon products will stand a decade in the future. But we can say confidently that continued change is inevitable.
Rather than trying to predict the future, maybe it’s more important to commit to continued effort. Remember the quote about planting trees you won’t get to sit under? Plan to keep planting “trees.” Managing the environment happens on a timescale that’s hard to reckon with, but collective diligence is how we move forward.
We’d like to thank you for taking the time to read this guide to greenwashing on Amazon. It’s a thorny subject full of emotional snares, but we hope you walk away from this with optimism and a belief that you have agency and can contribute to the effort in some small way. We hope you feel inspired by that agency and look for ways to make an impact on Amazon and elsewhere.
If enough people work together, we can and will conquer problems such as greenhouse gases, microplastic pollution, and water supply contamination. We can build more durable economies, eCommerce businesses, and online marketplaces that are inherently sustainable thanks to sustainable practices. We can build a happier, more equitable world where the supply chain becomes so efficient that access to goods and services becomes more equal.
It won’t happen today, tomorrow, or the next day. But someday, someone will sit under the trees that you plant.
If you’re unsure about your eco-friendly product’s Amazon listing, reach out for a free listing analysis, and let us take a look! Mention this blog and we can address your eco-forward elements specifically. We at MxEm love nature and would be honored to help you improve your messaging or write an entirely new listing from scratch. Let’s combine our powers of eCommerce and creative writing, and contribute to a cleaner, greener tomorrow!