For months now I’ve been scratching my head wondering why the green movement has stopped. Worse than stopped – reverse might be a better word for it. I’ve been asking questions like “why are people back shopping at Walmart?” and been at a loss, but I think I know the answer. The retail world and marketing minds behind them have simply started to overuse a word we used to trust. The word green meant safe, it meant Eco-friendly, and something we didn’t have to research, but with everybody now using this word is no longer has meaning. And with big box stores now offering ‘green’ selections, people just throw up their hands and start shopping back based on price.
Here are some tips to cut through greenwashing and hold stores or products accountable for their green rating:
1) What is the item made from? Make sure to cover exterior and interior of a product. I see so many products coated with a form of antibacterial coating but marketed as winkle free, or a good thing with avoiding germs. If you are looking for natural materials (100% cotton, etc.) ask that it’s in fact 100%.
2) What is inside the product? When the item you are purchasing doesn’t contain an ingredient list, this can be difficult but someone selling the product is responsible for knowing this information. Is the stuffing or inside sprayed with flame retardants?
3) Where was this item manufactured? * I have a story that is a great example of why a product might not be ‘green’ if it’s not locally made. This is a great question and why it’s not asked more often I have no idea. I ask it every time I go to the Mall. Ask the question every time you purchase something and the answers might surprise you.
4) Where can this item go when I’m finished with it? The end of a product’s life is pretty important. Once you figure out that land fills are getting to a point where they can’t take more junk, the 2nd hand stores are full of crap, and if we are back to shopping based on cost alone, my fear is we are turning away from a simplified approach to living that we’ve been moving towards over the last couple of years. Invest in quality, not quantity and you’ll learn that heirloom products in your life are important because they can be reused for a long time.
* I have an example that covers ‘green’ items that are imported. There are many items that we don’t manufacture yet in North America, however you might be surprised at how many we can! I actually felt ill when I received a price list sent to me by an overseas rep a few months ago. Because I’m the owner of Green Planet Parties, I’m often sent pitches from overseas companies and a flower felt garland caught my eye. I thought – “how cute and it’s made from felt!” But when I saw the price list my heart just dropped…the cost of the garland was $0.15. I had no idea this was how inexpensive overseas products could be. For 4 years I’ve had party decorations made locally by moms that sew so I’ve never out-sourced decorations before. Do you know how much I pay someone to make a garland? $9. How would a store like mine ever be able to compete with prices this low? I guess the only way is if you, the consumer, care that someone is receiving a penny to manufacture an item or not. Asking the simple question of “where is this made?” is easy, interesting, and will salvage small businesses and local artists. There is a great quote on Pinterest that captures this concept from Anne Lappe: “Every time you spend money, you’re casting a vote for what kind of world you want.”
If you are new to the term ‘green washing’ it simply means to market a product as ‘eco-friendly’ when it’s actually not. There have been great articles written about pink washing lately too! This term deals with the topic of companies that put pink ribbons on their products for breast cancer awareness when the product actually contains ingredients that are linked to cancer. Pink washing again is a marketing ploy to sell products based on ‘marketing’ not the integrity of the brand.
If we continue on the journey of supporting big businesses that think they have our health and the environment’s interests at heart, I think we’re in trouble as consumers. If you are a big box business, in my opinion, you have a diluted business plan – meaning you carry everything under the sun because you want to be an all inclusive one-stop shop for everything a person needs to purchase. But by doing this, you are diluting more than just your products…but also run the risk of diluted product knowledge. If I’m shopping at the butcher shop – would I ask him/her for tips on how to garden? Or about the latest fads for my hair style? No I wouldn’t. Individual product expertise when we are talking about bringing new products into your home, this is the edge a small business has over big stores. I know of a respected organic skin care line that catered to children with sensitive skin. In order to be available at the big box stores, they had to add a new preservative to this line of skin care. Being available in the big box store actually made the small company reformulate their ingredient list. But when you drive prices down and don’t ask questions, these are the types of problems that will occur. Chemicals that are hard to detect like lead and flame retardants – you need expertise product knowledge to counter act if you are looking to bring ‘green’ items into your life.
I’m not the only person frustrated by green or pink washing. Here are some related articles for more info!
Avoid Greenwashed Brands by Fashioning Change http://fashioningchange.com/blog/five-ways-to-avoid-greenwashed-brands
Why Pink Ribbons Are Fading by EcoMom Alliance: http://www.ecomomalliance.org/profiles/blogs/why-pink-ribbons-are-fading
What Does Natural Mean To You? by Organic PR: http://www.organicprpro.com/2011/07/what-does-natural-mean-to-you/
From Paige Wolf, author of Spit That Out! Sins of Greenwashing http://www.spitthatoutthebook.com/2011/09/whats-a-green-mom-to-do-an-excerpt-from-%E2%80%9Cthe-sins-of-greenwashing/