Greenwashing and Why Being “Natural or Green” is Not Enough

greenwashing-get the whole story

In my opinion, anyone who sells a green product or who educates others about the harmful health effects of everyday products should take a deeper look at marketing claims.  What do natural, non-toxic, green, environmentally-friendly and other terms really mean?  Unfortunately, nothing.  There is no certification, no proof required to make such claims.  Seeing these terms on a label or container is simply not enough to determine if a product is healthy for humans or the earth.

In my talkcast interview with Dr. Anne Steinemann, I was surprised to hear that of the air fresheners and laundry products she’d tested, those that were labelled as organic and natural were the worst offenders when it came to emitting VOC’s or fumes.  It was hard at first to wrap my brain around this but eventually, I got it.  Essential oils, although natural, emit VOC’s.  Patchouli oil has long been known as having insecticidal properties. Some plants create their own insect repellents by emitting fumes that are harmful to the insects.    Another example, pyrethrins, are contained in the seed cases of the perennial Chrysanthemum which is grown commercially to supply the insecticide.  Extracts of the plant are used as insecticide and are often labelled as organic, natural or botanical.  Pyrethrins are neurotoxins that attack the nervous systems of all insects.  Natural, yes.  Safe for humans?  Not necessarily.  In 2008, a US inquiry looked into the safety of pyrethrins and pyrethroids.  Full article here.

Excerpt:  A class of insecticides derived from flowers – long believed to be environmentally safe – is in fact causing significant human health problems in the US, according to an inquiry released today by public-interest campaigners.

Poisoning incidents caused by insecticides made with pyrethrins and pyrethroids, compounds made from the chrysanthemum flower, rose 63% between 1998 and 2006, the inquiry by the Washington-based Centre for Public Integrity (CPI) found.

Green-wash (green’wash’, -wôsh’) – verb: the act of misleading consumers regarding the environmental practices of a company or the environmental benefits of a product or service.

It would appear that companies making poisonous products can call them green or natural and if we consumers aren’t sharp, we may be led to believe they’re less harmful than they really are.  Is the inquiry I’d cited above a sign that consumers are believing marketing claims and are being lulled into a false sense of security?

Environmental marketing company, Terra Choice, studied the claims on some self-professed green, natural products and what they found was disheartening.  Of the 1,018 products they investigated, 99% made claims that were examples of greenwashing.

Terra Choice put out a guide which helps consumers figure out the truth behind environmentally-friendly marketing claims.  The guide, called The Six Sins of Greenwashing, divides these claims into 6 sins.  I’d urge anyone interested in breaking through the B.S. and especially people selling products and educating others to take a look at this guide.  It’ll clarify a lot.

Download the Six Sins of Greenwashing from Terra Choice’s web site. (pdf 1.2 MB)

Download a Six Sins Wallet Card for your green purchasing (pdf 1 MB)

Copyright 2009 by Lynn Argent

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About Lynn

Blogger, talkcaster and teacher.
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