The top ten greenwashing buzzwords. How to tell if Mother Nature is being duped.

20 January 2010 in Marketing

I was looking around the grocery store one day and thought that there is a lot of “greenness” in the grocery store, however I really didn’t feel it. Looking at some product packages I had the sinking feeling that I was somehow being greenwashed. I couldn’t pin point it precisely but just a feeling of, “This does not seem right.”

This is a list of the ten most over-used greenwashing buzzwords. These words can be practically meaningless in terms of actually sustainability. I do want to confess that I have used most of these words on several occasions, however when used in the right context they are meaningful but used alone you should be suspicious. Also, just because a company uses these words on this list does not mean that they are greenwashing, rather it should be a trigger for you to look closer in to what is being said and not take it as pure and whole. So, in no particular order:

  1. Whenever possible – This one usually comes up when talking about the use of organic ingredients. “We use local and organic ingredients ‘whenever possible’ in order to ensure greater environmental impact.” “Whenever possible” really means whenever the Chef can find it cheaper and readily available and it tastes the same or better.
    Green Solution – Ask the restaurant to tell you which ingredients are local and organic.
  2. Local – This one is not at the top on the bad offender list, however one should be more cautious nowadays for this reason; just because it is local, does not necessarily mean it is good.  Locally raised beef might be raised on a horrible factory farm down the road that mistreats its animals.
    Green Solution –  Ask which farm it comes from and research that farm independently.
  3. All Natural – All Natural has been used probably the longest. Typically it is is supposed to mean that the products ingredients are not chemically produced or artificial. The real problem with all natural is that it is very subjective. If you really think about it all things come from somewhere and are made up of atoms and electrons and are from the planet earth. Bleach is all natural. It is a chemical compound that occurs in nature. Would you want all natural bleach in your breakfast cereal? Secondly, because of this it is really hard to regulate its use.
    Green Solution –  Ignore all together. Unless there is a qualifier specifically on the package as to what All Natural means, it should be considered the same as “low fat” and “diet.”
  4. (Insert region) Grown/Raised – This is another one that is tricky. I almost put this in the same bullet point as local, but I figured that sometimes this can be a trick by food companies to promote something as green when really it is just regular course of business. Examples are Midwest grown corn and Florida Oranges. 80% of all corn is grown in Florida (source) and the US produces 45% of the worlds corn with the majority of it being produced in the Midwest (source). Odds are that if you are in the Midwest, you are consuming corn grown in the Midwest. So I wouldn’t rush to tweet your tweeple because you purchased “Midwest grown corn.” It’s nothing new or notable.
    Green Solution – Same as local,  inquire about which farm before buying in to the greenness of the product.
  5. Hormone-Free Chicken – I was once told by a chicken distributor that you cannot really use the terms hormone free when applying it to chickens. Farmers don’t use hormones in the raising of chickens because it doesn’t really do anything. By that rational you could also claim it was “Lead Free Chicken” or “Kryptonite Free Chicken.” It is also a naturally false phrase because all chickens have hormones in them.
    Green Solution –  Look for “Antibiotic Free Chicken” or “Chickens used without the use of Antibiotics.”
  6. Farm Raised or Farm Fresh – This one always gets me because if you think about it, if it is a vegetable or an animal then it was RAISED ON A FARM. I can safely say that 100% of all corn is farm raised corn. I guess you could technically buy corn raised in someone’s backyard which is not technically a farm, but odds are if you can eat it, it was raised on a farm.
    Green Solution – Like “all natural” this is another one that you can pretty much ignore all together.
  7. Green – It’s a color. I know, have used this term many times in this blog post so far but this term gets used a lot. You see a lot of “Our new green menu” and “Green services,” etc… It is a very subjective term. One company cannot be “more green” than another. Tide cannot pump 20% more green in to its laundry detergent.
    Green Solution – Use this more of a trigger term that alerts you to an environmentally sustainable company.
  8. Made With – This term is hogwash. For some reason when Organic came out, no producer could really afford to convert their products to 100% (or 95%) organic, so they found the cheapest organic element they could and threw it in their product. “Made with Organic Salt” or “Made with Organic Wheat” became the new “Low – Carb” phrase to stamp on the box. So basically you found one organic producer that could fulfill your organic need on 5% of your product.
    Green Solution – Try finding an alternative if their is one claim that it is organic. Always look at the labels. Remember a  labels ingredients are listed in order of their percentage weight from highest first. So if the organic ingredient is high up on the list, good. If it is low on the list, bad.
  9. 5 Ingredients – The newest trend in food is all to the blame of solely one man, Michael Pollen. Yes he is the author of some of our favorite books but he has started a trend of creating a demand in consumers hearts for products with 5 ingredients and none of them being High Fructose Corn Syrup. It is another fun marketing gimmick that is showing up in Ice Cream and Food Network Shows. The ironic part is that most food items actually do not contain that much more than 5 ingredients. It is the SUB-INGREDIENTS that can add up. Every food producer has to list on the ingredients list and their sub-ingredients. So the front of the label may say Cream, Flour, Sugar, Egg and Baking Soda but check the back of the label for what additives they are putting in the Cream to make sure it does not go stale in two days on the shelf.
    Green Solution – Again, read the labels. Also, try to remember WHY you desire five ingredients. Is it because you do not want additives? Then just pick foods that do not have extra additives. If you do not know what a certain additive is… then should you really be eating it?
  10. Reusable or Recyclable – These terms usually apply to packaging. Part of the new movement of biodegradable packaging is to reduce landfill space, limit to production of harmful plastics that rely on oil and ensure that products actually go away. So when you see these two terms that basically is a way of saying, “Hey, we think all this green stuff is cool but we are going to still produce icky plastics and we think you should recycle them or reuse them.”
    The worst is when I saw on a Styrofoam coffee cup that said “We support recycling” even though it was printed on a product that couldn’t be recycled from a store that did not even offer a place to recycle it!
    Green Solution - Search for alternatives that are biodegradable and/or compostable. Products made of corn, bamboo or potatoes will safely degrade in the earth’s soil in a much quicker time frame than products made out of plastic (oil).

So there you have it. My list of top ten greenwashing buzz words. Now, just because you find one of these words on your favorite products does not mean that you should stop purchasing that product, just maybe take a closer look at what each word means and where it is used. Remember a product that is 5% organic is still better than one that is 0% organic.

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20 January 2010 Marketing

1 Comment to The top ten greenwashing buzzwords. How to tell if Mother Nature is being duped.

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