Green or Greenwashing ?

Green, eco-friendly, environmentally-friendly, earth-friendly refer to products, services or practices that claim reduced, minimal or no harm for the environment. Note that none of these words are defined by national or international standards. As a result, they are open to interpretation by consumers and businesses.

Green products

Environmental claims of a greener product can include one or more of the following aspects (non-exhaustive list): 

  • is manufactured from toxic-free, renewable, or sustainable ingredients 
  • can be recyclable, compostable, or reusable
  • its packaging can be recyclable, compostable, or reusable
  • has reduced or zero carbon footprint
  • has reduced or zero plastic footprint
  • is energy efficient (uses less energy)
  • is sourced or produced locally

Green businesses

For a company, these claims can refer to good environmental practices in the operation of their business (non-exhaustive list):

  • reduce energy and water consumption
  • reduce GHG emissions
  • reduce air emissions (SOx, NOx, fine particulate matter, etc.) 
  • reduce and/or recycle waste 
  • use sustainable raw materials (e.g.: renewable, recycled)
  • use renewable energy
  • design and produce “green” products


The terms “eco-friendly”, “green”, “sustainable” can be misused in corporate communications promulgating an image of environmental responsibility, which in fact is unfounded or intentionally misleading.

10 Signs of Greenwashing
Fluffy language
Words or terms with no clear meaning (e.g. “eco-friendly”)
Green product vs.
dirty company
Such as efficient lightbulbs made in a factory that pollutes rivers
Suggestive pictures
Green images that indicate a (unjustified) green impact (e.g. flowers blooming from exhaust pipes)
Irrelevant claims
Emphasising one tiny green attribute when everything else is not green
Best in class
Declaring you are slightly greener than the rest, even if the rest are pretty terrible 
Just not credible
“Eco friendly” cigarettes, anyone? “Greening” a dangerous product does not make it safe
Information that only a scientist could check or understand
Imaginary friends
A “label” that looks like third party endorsement—except that it is made up
No proof
It could be right, but where is the evidence?
Out-right lying
Totally fabricated claims or data


How to select “green” products and services? 

It is not possible to define a perfectly “green” product or service due to the complexity and interconnection of systems (people, air, water, land, wildlife...). Generally-speaking, the greenest products are those where all materials and energy used in the making, usage, and disposal of the product is contained in a small eco-system, and without degrading it. It is important that the consumer (business or individual) remains alert about environmental claims and remembers to favour local products, made from renewable/sustainable resources, and for which the discard becomes a resource for someone else to use (reusable, compostable, or recyclable). 


An ecolabel is a label issued by an organisation, which certifies that a product or service meets a set of requirements. Those requirements may cover one or several environmental aspects of a product or service. Ecolabels aims to champion better products and facilitate the decision making process of the consumer (individual or business) – Ecolabels in Singapore.

Written by
Ivona Balint-Kowalczyk
Sustainability consultant, Founder of Sustainao
Rémi Césaro
Resource Efficiency Consultant, Director of Zero Waste City