Are You Being Greenwashed?

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The trend toward greener, healthier lifestyles has not gone unnoticed by companies, both large and small. Businesses of all types are looking for ways to promote their products and services as “green” and “environmentally friendly.”

Some of these label claims have substance behind them. For example, appliances that earn the EnergyStar designation have met standards of energy efficiency validated by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Other green label claims are less reliable.

Some of these green claims are, in fact, downright questionable. How does one assess the validity of a cleaning product with a “green” or “nature-friendly” designation? Some of these so-called “green” products are just the same cleaning chemicals packed into more environmentally-friendly packaging.

What about food products that are called “natural”? Flavors are a good example of how consumers can be misled by claims of naturalness. Take a fruit juice labeled as “grape juice” which contains grape juice, natural grape flavor, and other natural flavors. What exactly are those other natural flavors, and what are the other contents? Such a product can contain apple juice, other fruit extracts, and sweeteners such as high fructose corn syrup. All these things are “natural” but they are not grape juice. The ingredients in this grape juice product are not even all derived from grapes.

What can you do as a consumer to protect yourself form being duped or greenwashed?

Here are a few suggestions.

First, learn which labels you can trust. Those green claims that are not on a short list of trusted green sources should be viewed with a degree of caution. Simple claims of “eco-friendly” or “natural” do not mean much without some further validation. For food products, the designation of “USDA Organic” sets a standard that means chemicals fertilizers have not been used. It also costs farmers more to achieve it, so you may not find many foods labeled USDA Organic to be bargains, but you will have a level of assurance that the label means what it claims. If you are concerned about how animals have been treated in their use for the production of food, the label “Certified Humane” is one to look for. A third label you can trust is “Fairtrade” which ensures that the growers or producers are paid a fair wage or price for their products.

Don’t be greenwashed. Learn which eco-friendly labels can be trusted.

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April 2011
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