Green Products – Do They Make A Difference To The Environment?

Does using green products actually make a difference? Sudina Manandhar from Earthandhuman explains why making the switch to using green products is vital for both the health of people and the planet and the pitfalls to watch out for in the process.

Going green involves incorporating a lifestyle that benefits not only the people who live on the planet but also the environment itself. With coastal flooding, global rising temperatures, and severe weather changes, people are becoming more conscious of their lifestyle decisions.

And for good reason. Humans have absorbed more resources in the last 50 years than at any other point in human history.

With the rise of cheap materials such as plastics and petrochemicals and increasing knowledge of the impacts of these materials on the environment, the interest in green products has never been greater.

With more and more people looking to green their lifestyle, there are increasing discussions on how this impacts our biosphere. Many of us care about making environmentally friendly choices and want to use products that are both self-sustaining and cause the least damage possible. But how do we make sure the green products we do buy actually make a difference?

What Is A Green Product?

Wooden toothbrushes next to eucalyptus stems with blue text box that reads does using green products actually make a difference to the environment?

First, we must understand what a green product actually is.

Green products are typically distinguished as being made with non-toxic ingredients in an environmentally friendly manner, and which can be disposed of responsibly at the end of their life.

Many green products are also certified by reputable organisations. These include Energy Star for electrical items, the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) for wood-based items, the Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS) for textiles, as well as many other accredited labelling schemes.

Some of the characteristics of a green product are that they are:

  • Cultivated without the use of harmful chemicals and under sanitary conditions.
  • Recyclable, reusable, and biodegradable.
  • Packaged in an eco-friendly manner.
  • Utilising the fewest resources.
  • Has a low carbon footprint.
  • Has a low or no plastic footprint.

Why Buy Greener Products?

When items are produced in a non-environmentally friendly manner, there are a host of consequences. From toxic exposures to air pollution, water contamination, global warming, natural resource depletion, improper disposal, and ecosystem damage. These are all potential hazards to both human health and the environment.

These impacts can occur at any point in the product’s life cycle. This includes the extraction of raw materials, and during the production and labelling processes. It can also include the impacts of transportation to retail units and the selling of these items. It even extends to product use and the product’s end of life.

Buying greener products – especially those made from renewable resources – can help mitigate some of these impacts, as well as benefit both the environment and local communities.

The Green Consumption Effect

Whilst there are environmental benefits to buying eco-friendly products, researchers have interestingly found that buying green products can enhance a shopper’s wellbeing. It was found that buying a green product makes customers feel good – giving them a warm glow – and makes them feel like responsible and upstanding citizens.

This is a phenomenon known as the green consumption effect.

However, the same study found that the green consumption effect vanishes when the environmentally friendly component of the item has a low or negligible environmental benefit.

Be Aware Of Greenwashing

The trouble is that many unscrupulous brands try to take advantage of this green consumption effect. As such, numerous companies seek to distinguish themselves in a highly competitive marketplace by over-exaggerating their eco-friendly credentials to encourage customers to buy their products.

Greenwashing is the phrase used to characterise the process when a company exaggerates how environmentally-friendly its product actually is. 

Falsified sustainability assertions, such as in the ethical jewellery sector, are the number one reason customers say they would avoid purchasing a product. That is, greenwashing is more offensive than having a terrible online presence or terrible reviews.

But how do you know if the so-called green products you are using are genuine or phoney? Here are a few things to do to avoid being greenwashed by a brand:

Is The Green Product Able To Back Up Its Claims

If a product alleges to be compostable, biodegradable, or sustainable, then the brand should provide more details on how or why. Preferably the brand should provide external certifications to back up these claims.

Read The Small Print

Food packaging is a prime example of how some environmentally friendly statements, such as ‘biodegradable’ and ‘compostable,’ may not be as beneficial as they appear.

Plastic wraps may be labelled as compostable. However, do read the packaging or contact the manufacturer if advice is missing. The wrapper may be home compostable, which is good. In other cases, it may require to be composted commercially. In this case, it’s considered greenwashing, as few people have access to commercial composting facilities.

Look For Accreditation Or Buyer’s Guides

Several third-party environmental credentials aim to ensure specific benchmarks are met by brands. This includes accreditations such as Fairtrade, B Corp, and Rainforest Alliance Certified.

While accreditations are not a panacea, they indicate whether businesses are making an effort to help the environment. Buyers’ guides, such as those for ethical shoppers, can also assist by doing some of the analysis for you.

False Claims Should Be Reported

If there are no details on the tag or website about how a product is green, consult the brand directly. False or deceptive environmental claims are against Advertising Standard Agency guidelines. Businesses that make misleading claims may face fines.

The Future Of Green Consumerism Looks Promising

It is tough to persuade consumers to pay more for goods. However, brands can encourage consumers toward making more environmentally friendly choices by making things convenient and incentivising green behaviours.

UK supermarket chains already charge for plastic shopping bags to encourage the reuse of bags. Many supermarkets also offer single-use plastic recycling terminals. These often include recycling incentives, such as money off your grocery shopping.

In some instances, simply providing a price reduction for reusing old bags, containers, or cartons can make a difference. As can providing a discount for cafe customers using their own cups.

As green living is not accessible to everyone, brands must consider how they can bridge the information gap and assist consumers with a behavioural change, regardless of their circumstances.

It’s also important to remember that green consumerism is more than just buying environmentally friendly products. It can also include recycling, preserving, and taking public transport instead of driving a private car, where possible.

Don’t Be Fooled

We are all accountable, not only for our individual well-being but also for the health of everyone and the planet. As the sustainability movement gains traction, many people are looking for simple ways to green their lifestyles.

However, this leaves us at risk of greenwashing by unscrupulous companies, driven by profit rather than genuine environmental concern. Distinguishing between genuinely green products and greenwashing can help ensure the products we buy do genuine good to both people and the planet.


Best YouTube Videos & Channels on Climate Change To Watch Now

In need of some viewing inspiration? Here are some of the very best YouTube videos and channels on climate change to watch now.

Climate change is a complex issue. If you are struggling to get your head around the ins and outs of climate change, then you’re not alone. According to the Office of National Statistics (ONS), around 35% of adults in the UK feel like they don’t know much about climate change.

The good news is that you don’t have to be a climate scholar to understand the issues. A host of science communicators have put together some incredibly useful and accessible YouTube videos on the topic of climate change. From the causes and effects, to why it isn’t straightforward to solve planetary warming. Some videos even cover the problems of climate misinformation – fuelled by both oil companies and the media.

Best YouTube Videos On Climate Change

Two people watching videos on their phones against a yellow background, with a blue text box that reads the best YouTube videos and channels on climate change to watch now.

Whether it’s for yourself, or if you want to show a climate video to students or for a group talk to help inspire and educate, then you don’t need to look far. Here are some of the very best YouTube videos on climate change that you can watch right now.

Can YOU Fix Climate Change?

Can YOU Fix Climate Change is by Kurzgesagt – a German animation studio specialising in educational videos. This great video explains the complexity of climate change in just 15 minutes. Kurzegesagt is German for ‘in a nutshell’ after all!

With 11 million views in just 8 months, there’s good reason for the video’s popularity. As well as explaining what climate change is, the video also succinctly explains complex issues behind climate change. This includes the historical and geopolitical factors that make taking action on rising carbon emissions tricky. The YouTube video also covers why individual climate action, such as switching to an electric car, won’t solve climate change by itself.

Don’t feel despondent though. The video also presents real, doable solutions. It’s not going to send you into a spiral of climate anxiety. I’ve studied Education for Sustainable Development as far as PhD level and I would say it’s the best climate change video I’ve found. No word of a lie.

Climate Change 101 With Bill Nye

If 15 minutes is too long, and you want a climate change explainer in less than 5 minutes, then this is the best YouTube video for you. In this video for National Geographic, Bill Nye – the US science communicator – explains what climate change is exactly.

Whilst it doesn’t go into such depth as the Kurzgesagt video – such as the issues that make solving climate change difficult – it is a very useful video. Particularly if you are looking to educate your audience first before advancing to other climate change discussion points.

Causes And Effects Of Climate Change

Another quick primer on climate change, this 3-minute video from National Geographic on the causes and effects of climate change is a good watch for beginners. From discussing what causes climate change to discussing what the effects of climate change are, this video outlines the human impact and consequences of climate change on the environment, and our lives, in an accessible manner.

13 Misconceptions About Global Warming

13 Misconceptions About Global Warming by Veritasium is another useful YouTube video to watch to help educate people about climate change. It’s also a useful video for when you come up against climate change deniers.

Debunking the 13 most common misconceptions about global warming, along with sources for the information, this fun yet informative 7-minute video is a must-watch. With over 5.3 million views, the internet agrees!

Who Is Responsible For Climate Change?

Who Is Responsible For Climate Change, again by Kurzgesagt, is another must-watch. This ten-minute video explains the complexities and ethical dilemmas at a Nation-state level when it comes to taking action on climate change. This includes to complexities of working out who needs to do the most to reduce emissions.

My only criticism of this otherwise excellent video is what it omits. It fails to mention that nations such as the US and UK have reduced their own carbon footprints by outsourcing the production of goods to China. Chiefly because labour is considerably cheaper there. As such, China’s emissions are higher because they make many of the West’s consumer goods. This is a really important talking point that should not be overlooked.

If you watch this video in an educational or community setting, then I’d really recommend having this topic as a discussion point.

The History of Climate Change Negotiations In 83 Seconds

Strongly related to the last Kurzgesagt video is this YouTube video on climate change negotiations in 83 seconds by CICERO Klima. This Norwegian climate research institute has put together an incredibly concise video on the problems with getting nation-states to agree to take the necessary climate action. Watch it and understand the problem in less than 2 minutes!

The Biggest Lie About Climate Change

The Biggest Lie About Climate Change by AsapScience is a really interesting YouTube video about misinformation. It explains how Exxon – the oil company – knew in the 1980s about the links between burning fossil fuels and climate change. Rather than looking to innovate and diversify into cleaner forms of energy, Exxon kept this information quiet. Instead, they lobbied Governments and took part in disinformation campaigns to maintain the status quo.

It’s an engaging watch if you want to understand why we’re in the situation we’re in right now.

Climate Change And The Titanic

I first came across this clever YouTube video on a climate change education course I went on. The simple 4-minute animation draws parallels between the decisions taken by the crew of the Titanic, despite repeated warnings from other ships in the area, and world leaders, despite repeated warnings from climate scientists.

Sounds like climate doomism? I promise it’s not. Instead, it’s a clever way to say that if we carry on full steam ahead then we will run into catastrophic problems. If, however, we take action now, we can change course.

A Statistically Representative Climate Change Debate YouTube Video

This statistically representative climate change debate from the Last Week Tonight Show with John Oliver does contain bad language. It’s probably not what you would want to show to school pupils or anyone easily offended! However, this 4-minute comedy video is a really great watch on the colossal failings of the media when it comes to communicating about climate change, and what the media should do to make their reporting more balanced.

Why Humans Are So Bad At Thinking About Climate Change

Finally, this YouTube video by Vox on why are humans so bad at thinking about climate change is another video high on my list. Discussing why the biggest problem in the climate change fight isn’t technology – it’s human psychology, this 10-minute video is incredibly compelling.

M. Sanjayan, a Senior Scientist and Researcher from UCLA and Conservation International, discusses the messaging that turns people off from taking action on climate change. By then looking at proven effective ways to get people to take environmental action, it’s a fascinating watch for anyone looking to encourage their community to take action on climate change.

Have you found any great YouTube videos on climate change? As always, do share in the comments below.

And looking for more inspiration? Do check out my post on the best Ted Talks on climate change. I also have put together my top sustainability quotes, as well as some inspiring climate change speeches.