Tag Archives | greenwashing

The Dark Side of Black Friday Shopping

Black Friday shopping starts today and with The National Research Federation predicting sales for 2012 will increase over this US holiday – it seems that the movement to boycott this shopping day is not working. I’ve written about Black Friday in the past (click here) but this year I asked my friend Barb from Gibsons Recycling Depot to give me a glimpse into the after effects of consumerism through the eyes of a person who is an expert on personal waste. Hopefully the message of over-consuming is not missed by those planning on shopping Black Friday deals. You see, Barb sees the ugly side of the holidays and she also sees the side of Black Friday few people know. The majority of people see this method of shopping as a way to save a few dollars and perhaps even help support the US economy. What a recycling depot sees are the tons of un-opened gifts that start arriving in the trash after the holidays. Gift wrap and discarded gifts (that were never opened from their packaging!!)  are the dark side of a recycling depot in January. Face it or not, when you are purchasing a gift based off price – you are not shopping with any sort of Eco-conscience. When you are shopping based only from cost alone – several things are happening:

– the product is probably manufactured overseas. So how does purchasing it help the US or local economy?

– the product might be unsafe with lead or phthalate levels because the cheapest materials have been used in manufacturing.

– consumers overspend. We all probably head to the Walmarts of the world with a list but we look around and start seeing items in bins for $1. Thinking we can’t possible give up a bargain like this we buy it.

– stores that offer the greatest sale discounts are big box and do not think about packaging or the huge footprint it took to transport the product into their store. Is the cost of that $1 trinket still only $1 if it will exist on earth for 100s of years after it’s been trashed? Is that item still $1 if it’s wrapped in plastic or Styrofoam that cannot be recycled? The facts are – when the toll on the earth is so great from that $1 item – it’s true cost is no longer $1.

Barb actually gave me a quote today that was amazing and I’d like to share it. She works at one of the most progressive recycling depots in Western Canada. I’ve been there, seen how much they can recycle, so it’s important to listen to someone who knows waste.

We are culturally conditioned to want to create displays of abundance. In most cultures and history there is feasts and gifts, so we must create behavioral changes where we create and satisfy those needs but without all the consumption and waste. We need to get into “creative abundance” where maybe we put photos under the tree and everyone shares memories and stories about each other, Maybe those old plastic farm animals toys become symbols of donations we have given to aid organizations in someone else’s name. I see the ghosts of Christmas past throughout the year, bags of awful plastic toys, useless products…

To put a visual along with this quote from Barb, I found a video published by our friends at The Story Of Stuff. It’s called Tis The Season To Get Trampled… and it is driving the movement to ‘Buy Nothing Do Something’ over Thanksgiving this year. I sat and watched this video with my children and their mouths just hung open. Then of course they giggled because they couldn’t believe adults act like this over stuff! Have a watch with your children and then try to justify going shopping later that evening. You might just decide to stay in and choose family over frenzy.

Barb has also given me some stats regarding Canadian waste over the holiday season. I’m posting these facts so that you can think about personal waste while starting your Christmas shopping. Will you be contributing to another person’s personal waste by your gift giving choices?  Thanks for these Barb!

Every person will throw away an average of 110lbs of waste this holiday season

3,000 tons of foil will be used

Canadians will consume 4.3 million turkeys.

2,6 billion greeting cards will be sent

27.8 million real Christmas trees will be decorated

7.3 million fake trees will be purchased

6 millions rolls of tape will be used

250,000 tons of plastic packaging will be discarded

So with the high level of greenwashing that happens from ‘green gift lists’ this year – cut through the crap and ask yourself 3 questions: where is this made? what is it made from? how do I get rid of it? If you can get a positive answer on any of these questions while your shopping – you are no longer shopping based purely off price. You are now shopping based off price and thinking like an Eco Ninja – which is way cooler. Happy Thanksgiving to my readers in the US!

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Has The Word ‘Green’ Become Polluted?

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/

And Danika, editor of https://www.facebook.com/greenwala manages two Facebook pages on the topics of Greenwashing and Pinkwashing

 

 

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Movie Review: The Lorax

I have been so excited to see the release of our favorite Dr. Seuss book classic The Lorax on big screen. I was most excited to see the Trufulla trees because I’ve loved them for so long…to see them move, get a sense of their texture, colors and beauty was a big treat. We returned home from the theater a few hours ago and I’ve been buzzing to write down my thoughts. It would be easy to hate a remake of a book that has meant so much to me personally and my children, but this movie is a good thing. It’s coming at a great time in the world where greenwashing is high, our love of excess is also high, and the wise reminders from The Once-Ler need to be heard. A few of my kids commented they found the movie a bit depressing and I have to agree at the beginning. You are introduced to a world where everything is plastic. Then you see the outskirts of this town and everything is dark, bleak, and barren. I also thought my twins might get scared of the Once-Ler when he’s in the tower looking out through the blinds, but this wasn’t a problem. The movie weaves through the retelling of the book The Lorax told by The Once-Ler. You don’t get his side of the story in the book, so it’s amazing through the magic of the movie to understand how greed and power are an easy lure. But before all the Truffula Trees disappear you get to see them on the big screen and they are beautiful. The forest of Truffula trees is amazing…it’s how you’d imagine it from the book. My kids also really like how funny the Humming-Fish are in the movie…kind of understated humour and they got it and liked it!

I’m not going to go through the entire movie with this review. I want people to watch it and don’t want to spoil it. I do want to talk about my two favorite scenes in the movie and they are so understated (and brilliant) but I don’t think you’ll mind if I share them.

When the Once-ler cuts down the first Truffula tree to make a sneed, the Lorax pops out of the tree stump. We know this part from the book. But in the movie I love how the character The Lorax starts to place rocks around the tree stump and it’s a beautiful moment where he works with the animals to create a monument around something of great importance that has died.  The animals in the forest (Humming-Fish and Bar-ba-loots) all lend a hand and soon the stump is surrounded by rocks. They flash to this stump at the end of the movie when all the trees have been cut down. This was understated brilliance number one from the movie.

My other favorite part in the movie was when Betty White’s character (the very fun and wise grandmother in the movie) sees the Truffula seed her grandson is given and says to the seed “Oh!  I remember you!” and is so excited. You see, she is the only character in the movie that actually remembers what a real tree looks like. I haven’t seen the movie producers or other movie reviewers talk about the importance of giving a grandparent such a key role in the film, but I think it’s brilliant that she is one of the main characters and heroes in the movie. I wonder if they are making reference to how today’s society is moving towards harkening back to how our grandparents did things in our desires to become more ‘eco’. Actions and everyday life that is ‘green’ to us was just how it was more than 60 years ago. Plastic did not exist and the environment was treated with so much more respect, but it wasn’t out of a way to be ‘green’ or ‘cool’ . . . it simply just was.  If they meant to do this – I got the message loud and clear. Relying on the expertise and knowledge of the grandmother in the movie truly helps save the day in the film and she was my favorite character.  A good lesson to take away from the movie – learn from older generations. They have so much knowledge on how to do things better…that includes not indulging in over-consumption of  ‘things’ and ‘stuff’.

I was expecting to face palm or roll my eyes at the ‘romantic’ element in the movie. I mean, really, it’s Dr. Seuss. . . but unlike other parents I’ve heard make mention of the romantic story-line, it was very low-key and gave the older crowd in the audience a laugh.  The elephant in the room I do need to write about is the amount of commercialism associated with The Lorax.  I’m a rational enough person to separate commercialism via car sponsorship, toys, and many other items of Lorax merchandise we don’t need….but is everyone? I’ve read the uproar over Mazda using the ‘Lorax approved’ button to sell gas fueled cars but the sponsorship relationship that got me upset was the one signed with Target. For me, Target (which we don’t have in Canada) is an equivalent of Walmart (which we have plenty of in Canada) and why this company was given the rights to distribute and mass commercialize this movie still has me shaking my head. If the movie producers wanted to really make a statement, they would have not have made more ‘stuff’ that adds to the problem of over-consumption and greed that is so harmful to the environment. This is the goal of the movie – to educate against consumption. “Biggering and biggering” was the problem and the song routine that really drove home these words and also included messages of greed and power. In my opinion, this was a colossal error and I encourage parents to not buy that stuffie or plastic toy their child wants with the Lorax’s face attached and explain to the child why you’re not buying the toy. Take that opportunity to talk about the message and true goal from the book and movie.

I think all parents and children will learn a positive message from the movie The Lorax. Not all children (especially young ones) are able to truly understand what Dr. Seuss  was trying to tell us from the book The Lorax. Sometimes it’s easier to see it on the big screen where there is more detail and a longer timeline to get the message across. I asked my sons what message they took away from the movie and Angelo responded “unless people care a lot about nature, bad things will happen to it”.  It was my older son’s short response that really surprised and delighted me “only take what you really need from nature”.  I’m glad I have a reference point now with my younger daughters when we talk about plastic toys, nature, and our own consumption. It is much easier to point to messages from the movie with the younger crowd. Thumbs up and I’m excited to see change inspired by the retelling of this brilliant and beautiful story!!

Related Articles:

I loved looking back on the article I wrote about the book The Lorax from 4 years ago. I still love the book this much and take away a new message every time I read it to my children. Here is the post:

The Greenest Book You’ll Buy….and It’s Dr. Seuss!

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Back-To-School Guide to PVC-Free School Supplies

The back-to-school online marketing, TV commercials, and newspaper flyers have started and the more I see and read I can’t help but think…”let the greenwashing begin!”  Just because products are advertised as ‘green’ doesn’t necessarily mean they are and parents need to educate themselves on what school supplies are made from.  This year, I’m making an effort to not just stumble blindly through Office Depot trying to find everything on my back-to-school list and will be attempting to purchase non-PVC items and avoid polycarbonate plastics too (BPA plastic coded #7).  Beware of back-to-school greenwashing from companies marketing ‘greener’ school supplies and lunch containers. Ask questions before you buy. I’m so tired of seeing water bottles that appear to be stainless steel, but after picking them up and asking or emailing customer service departments, only to be told they are aluminum (hello Old Navy!!!).  Which is actually terrible because there are health problems associated from having your water in direct contact with aluminum. This is why manufacturers line tin cans with BPA so there is a barrier between the can and food (not that this is an ideal solution either).  When a water bottle looks like stainless steel and is only $4.99 in a store – ask why.  You’ll be surprised by the answer.

My goal is to eliminate PVC (the poison plastic) coded #3 from anything my boys will be putting into their back-packs heading into the classroom this September.  I’m hopeful this is possible because there are so many more options with school supplies this year. Still, it’s a major undertaking to research school supplies so I’m linking to the experts at the Center for Health , Environment, & Justice.  They’ve put together a fantastic guide call Back to School Guide to PVC-Free School Supplies. Have a read because this guide was put together August 2009 and is very current with great information. There is even a wallet printable guide to take with you while shopping called Back-To-School Wallet Guide to PVC-Free School Supplies.

If this is important to you I would recommend shopping early because items like 3-ring binders will be tough to find that aren’t made of vinyl. PVC is a known carcinogen and is toxic for human health. Let’s work together to remove it completely from schools.  Mommy Footprint is here to help with back-to-school litter-less (and non-toxic) lunch recommendations. I’ve been trying out some incredible products and will be writing about them over the coming weeks. A wonderful aspect of writing for Mommy Footprint is not only talking about chemicals I’m trying to eliminate from my children’s environment, but pointing parents in the direction to safe and more environmentally friendly products. I would never write a positive product review unless I love the product. I can’t wait to share products that are truly greener and safe to pack into your child’s back pack this school year.  And without the greenwashing. <grin>

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