Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Irked by Greenwashing

While I'm thrilled to see more and more companies offer all-natural, no chemical alternatives, I'm increasingly irked by the number of corporations that just flat-out lie. I'm talking food, beauty products, cleaning commodities, and anything else that touts itself as all-natural or even just looks like it's all-natural, but is actually not. (image source)

This is called greenwashing. It's a popular trick where companies use marketing and packaging that makes the product look natural and eco-friendly and can even go as far as to say it's natural but upon closer examination, it's as chock full of chemicals as any other product. So at first glance, it looks like it's good for you, but that is the trick.

Don't believe me? Here's the description for greenwashing from Wikipedia:

Greenwashing (a compound word modelled on "whitewash"), or "green sheen",[1][2] is a form of spin in which green PR or green marketing is deceptively used to promote the perception that an organization's aims and policies are environmentally friendly. Whether it is to increase profits or gain political support, greenwashing may be used to manipulate popular opinion to support otherwise questionable aims.

Deceptive, eh? I'm sure that you, the average consumer, are not thrilled to be lied to. But there is hope. We can just opt to stay informed and make good choices. The less we buy greenwashed products, the less likely the corporations will continue making them. 

With just a quick glance down a Target aisle, I can name several examples of greenwashing. 

  • Suave Naturals: Sure it says natural and there's a big pretty picture of fruits or waterfalls on the front, but a look at the ingredients list on the back exposes the numerous harmful chemicals that makes up the line. This example is an oldie, but a... baddie? Herbal Essences. I think they use the term organic in their pitch, but nope. There is nothing organic here at all.
  • Clorox Green Works Cleaners: Yep, sorry to burst your bubble, but this is another classic example of greenwashing. Sure they claim to be 99% natural, and while the unpronounceable ingredients are, in a way, naturally derived, it's certainly not eco-friendly or chemical-free.
  • Huggies Pure & Natural Disposable Diapers: Can you say oxymoron? Anything disposable is by far not eco-friendly at all. They are not biodegradable like other serious eco-companies producing diapers nor is the claim for organic cotton reliable. As far as we know, there is organic cotton on the outside, but not on the inside; you know, where it actually touches the baby's skin.
  • Potato chips, granola bars, and other packaged foods: The word "natural" is not regulated in any way. Anyone can pretty much slap the word "natural" onto any product and still get off scot-free. Think about this, high fructose corn syrup is derived from corn- a natural product. Organic, on the other hand, must meet strict government regulations in order to use the "organic" label. The same goes for free trade. Natural? Nope, it's still a free for all. 

Those are just a few, but greenwashing lurks everywhere. It's frustrating. Even I consider just giving up sometimes, but once you find a few dependable products, the rest will be easy. So by hit-and-miss and extensive research, I came up with a few tips that help me avoid greenwashed products and find eco-friendly, chemical-free ones instead:
  • Favor tried-and-true companies: Seventh Generation, Method, Dr. Bronners, Mrs. Meyer's, Mineral Fusion, gDiapers, Tushies, Burt's Bees, Yes To, Tom's of Maine, and other well-known eco-friendly companies.
  • Search for the organic or fair trade label. While fair trade isn't necessarily organic, it is much more likely to be natural and chemical-free.
  • Shop at health food and supply stores: Whole Foods, Mustard Seed (if you're in Ohio,) Sprouts, Fresh Market, Earth Fare, even Trader Joe's. There are a couple of locally owned health food stores in the area for me, so I'm sure there are a few near you too.
  • Read up to learn about the products you use and the products you may not know about: 
    • Skin Deep by the EWG (Environmental Watch Group) has the lowdown on almost all beauty products and grades them by amount of harmful chemicals on a number scale. 
    • Treehugger is a comprehensive site that covers eco-friendly information in all areas of life
    • The Daily Green has everyday advice and information on living green and finding products free of harmful additives. It's a pretty accessible site.
    • Mother Nature Network is a news source for all things environmental. 
  • Last, educate yourself on the products that may not be the best choice. A good place to start is this top 25 list of greenwashed products.
  • And if you're really ambitious, you can make your own. A simple google search will come up with hundreds of homemade instructions for anything you need from laundry detergent to face wash to all-purpose cleaners. Not to mention, dinner made from scratch is the healthiest you can get.
Thanks to people like you and me who take the time to search out natural products and use them, more retailers are listening and stocking the products we want. Target hasn't failed me yet in their selection nor has drugstores like CVS, Rite Aid, and Walgreen. It's just a matter of keeping your wits about you when you shop. A little bit of research and a shopping list will go a long way in helping you make safe and eco-friendly choices. 

What sort of eco-friendly or natural product do you use and what are you doing to include more of those products in your daily life?

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