I want to live in a world where finding out the true life cycle of the products I use isn’t a full time job.
If you don’t know what I mean, take a look at the 7 sins of greenwashing. A 2010 TerraChoice report showed that 95% of companies claiming to be environmentally friendly actually exhibited at least one of the 7 sins.
So the companies that you use on a daily basis may be tricking you into thinking they’re practicing environmental protection, i.e. greenwashing.
Through time, we’ve learned that greenwashing, just like whitewashing, is occurring. Baseless titles like “green” and “eco-friendly” have no weight anymore. For example, we know that brands like Clorox “GreenWorks” aren’t environmentally friendly despite the name’s “green” claim, as they actually contain many harmful ingredients.
Thankfully, there are people out there who have your back. The Environmental Working Group is dedicated to informing consumers about the true ingredients in the products you purchase.
But even though we’re much more aware of greenwashing now and we know what to look for, companies are still using the lack of public knowledge to sell their product in a more environmentally friendly light. They may be avoiding blatantly wrong claims, but they’re still participating in a subtle version of greenwashing.
Perhaps one of the best examples of this problem is the use of “recyclable” vs. “recycled”. Do you know the difference between these terms?
The Shelton Group’s Buzz on Buzzwords report shows that the majority of people do not know the difference. The report notes, “63% of consumers expect that if a product is advertised as recyclable, it must be good for the environment – and nearly as many (60%) think the same of a product made with recycled content.”
And for the most part, recyclable and recycled products are more environmentally friendly than products that aren’t. But consumers don’t know the difference between the terms, and companies are taking advantage of this.
Using a recycled logo and saying the product is 100% recyclable happens far too often, and is the most common form of greenwashing.
To clarify, the term “recyclable” means that the material is capable of being used again. There is technology available to transform these used materials (e.g. aluminum, paper, etc.) into new materials. However, not all materials are recycled at the same rate. Paper has a higher recycling rate than plastic bottles do, for example, because recyclable paper can be transformed into recycled content paper, while plastic bottles typically aren’t transformed into recycled content plastic bottles.
A product that has some percentage of recycled content actually contains some previously used materials. However, even 100% recycled content paperboard, for example, contains pre-consumer virgin fibers. This is because these tree fibers break down over time to a level that is not strong enough to produce quality paper.
So, we may think we’re buying products that benefit the environment but aren’t. To avoid this, first and foremost, inform yourself. If you want to find out where your product comes from, ask questions! Don’t take a company’s claims as truth, as you may be fooled. (But also, don’t immediately accuse a company of making false claims.)
But the more questions we ask, the harder companies will work to be truthful. And then we won’t have to spend hours researching the true life cycle of our products. Consumer pressure is a powerful force.