With most products now claiming some sort of green claim to fame it’s important to distinguish real benefits from the marketing ploys. To this point, this great little info-graphic below explains the various types of greenwashing and provides some interesting statistics. Green claims are big business as this graphic suggests that 9 out of 10 shoppers are influenced and willing to pay more for products touting environmental and health benefits. Green products generate the big green dollars businesses are after so it’s best to take each dose of green with a healthy side of skepticism.
In the U.S., laws regarding the use of environmental marketing claims are administered by the Federal Trade Commission (Federal Trade Commission, 2008). But loopholes in guidelines can still result in misinformation. For example, products labelled as recycled need only to refer to the bulk material of the product. Smaller elements of any given product, such as a bottle cap or bag handles do not have to adhere to the claim. Similarly, products branded with the Society of the Plastics Industry code (arrows in a triangular shape with corresponding plastic resin code) do not mean the product is recyclable or was made from recycled materials. The arrows and corresponding code only indicate the type of plastic resin used. Whether or not a particular resin or product is recyclable (or even safe!) depends on the individual municipal program.
Although certification and eco-labelling programs are meant to help consumers distinguish between the posers and the real do-gooders, some of these programs are run by industry and can overemphasize environmental benefits (CBC, 2012). It’s unfortunate but sometimes those who utilize greenwashing and those who appear to be fighting against it are all part of the same team.
One of the most powerful weapons against greenwashing is information and research. And I know this is tough – it takes a lot of time and expertise to find the truth buried under 50 shades of green. Fortunately there’s lots of resources to help. The website GoodGuide is recommended by Story of Stuff author Annie Leonard and is a searchable database listing the social, ethical and environmental impacts of all sorts of products from electronics to pet food. You can even compare different products against each other. Another good resource is the Environmental Working Group’s cosmetics database where you can search the health impacts of ingredients for over 75,000 products. Do you have suggestions of any others?
And while making better individual choices is important, we also need to advocate for legislation that ensures that we’re not green-duped in the first place. The Federal Trade Commission is a start but we need to demand more. Not only do we need better labelling to tell us what’s in our products and how it affects the earth and our bodies – we need to get rid of all this bad stuff in the first place.