Think About This: The total of all U.S. organic sales, including food and non-food products, was almost $29 billion in 2010. That is a 10% increase from the year before. What does that mean? Basically, there is a LOT of money to be made in organic products. Companies know that if they can slap the word organic on an item, you will pay more for it…and that means more profit for them.
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Here is a term you need to be familiar with: Greenwashing (according to Wikipedia) is “a form of “spin” in which green PR or green marketing is deceptively used to promote the perception that a company’s policies or products are environmentally friendly.” In other words, a company promotes their product as being environmentally friendly when it really isn’t. How can companies get away with this? Apparently the Federal Trade Commission hasn’t been too concerned with this issue up until now, although there are some recent proposals aimed at making it more difficult for companies to greenwash their products.
Here are a few of the products and industries that are most often greenwashed. You may want to research these areas a little deeper before making your purchase.
- Meat: Lots of companies advertise their meat as “wholesome,” “premium quality,” and “all natural.” even though they get their meat from factory farms and feed their animals genetically modified (GMO) corn. According to the information I found, Tyson was recently caught labeling their meat as ‘all natural’ even though the animals were given antibiotics. As a result of consumer backlash, the Tyson brand chicken is now raised without antibiotics.
- Personal Care and Beauty Products: If a company sticks one organic ingredient in an otherwise unnatural product does that mean the product is ‘green’? Not too long ago, Clairol’s Herbal Essences shampoos claimed to offer a “truly organic experience” but also included lauryl sulfate, propylene glycol and D&C red no. 3. That is a far cry from being an organic experience!
- Breakfast Cereals: The price on a box of cereal nowadays is ridiculous and if a company can say it is organic, natural, whole grain, low sugar or any other ‘good for you’ claim they can charge even more! These products usually contain genetically modified grains and milk from cows treated with growth hormones but they aren’t going to put THAT on the box!
- Dairy: I was shocked to learn about a controversy involving Horizon’s organic milk! According to the claim on the Organic Consumer Association’s website, the Horizon dairy farms in question do not meet the requirement for organic labeling because it was not a ‘grass based dairy’. (in other words, the cows lived inside in stalls and had nowhere to actually graze) It makes it difficult for me to trust organic claims when a brand I have known and loved for years gets caught in a situation like this.
Want to see the The Top 25 Greenwashed Products in America? Check it out, it is rather disturbing how consumers are being misled! You may also want to read The Black List for a list of health and beauty product ingredients that you do NOT want to use. If a product says ‘contains organic ingredients’ use this list to see what they aren’t telling you!
So, what is being done about the practice of greenwashing and how can you help?
In 2008 the environmental group Greenpeace launched a website called Stop Greenwash to help expose fraudulent claims and educate consumers. There is a lot of information on the site, petitions for you to sign, and a request for your submissions if you come across some less than honest green advertising.
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Or join the private Facebook group for simple tips on going green!
Other than the Greenpeace site, I found very little that consumers can actually DO about this problem other than just educating ourselves, researching a company’s claims and taking our buying power elsewhere.
SO, my 2 cents on the situation (because I know you want to hear it!) I do not live an entirely ‘green’ life. I have a weakness for Diet Coke and Cheetos. I have been known to throw away the occasional recyclable…like when I clean out the refrigerator and there is something green and scary growing inside a glass jar that used to contain horseradish. I cannot afford to buy all organic products. BUT…don’t lie to me about your product in hopes of tricking me to pay more for it. That just makes me mad. Once you lose my trust, you lose my dollars…and they will be very hard to earn back again.
Diane has a Bachelor’s degree in Microbiology with a Minor in Health Management and Policy. She spent many years working in cancer research, academics, and biotechnology. Concern over the growing incidence of human disease and the birth of her children led her to begin living a more natural life. She quickly realized that the information she was learning along the way could be beneficial to many others and started blogging as a way to share this knowledge with others. While passionate about health and the environment she can’t quite give up her favorite Cheetos and Diet Coke! Learn more about her HERE.