Sustainability is a movement; a way of living simple yet meaningful life that is good for people and good for the environment. Sustainability also means sharing & preserving the resources of planet earth with all other living beings and making sure we do not deplete these resources to support a reckless life style. The goal of sustainability is to preserve & enhance these resources for the future generations of human beings as well as all other living beings.
As businesses strive to create & sell earth-friendly products, we need to be careful in making our sales pitch lest we cross the line between genuinely green and green washed products. As sustainability and green living movement is becoming popular, one of the biggest challenges for consumers is to sort out the authentic green products from amongst myriads of so-called green products in the market place, many carrying exaggerated or downright deceptive claims of sustainability. Greenwashing is a term applied to all such products that are deceptively marketed to capitalize on consumers’ passion for environmental values or their aversion of chemical laden synthetic products.
This is becoming more and more a common practice these days that manufacturers will spin their sales & marketing pitch to showcase their products to the eco-conscious consumers. Overstating the environmental benefits of a product or its packaging and using earth-friendly images in excessively green color or shades of green and blue is an effective tactic to confuse the consumers. We often see cleaning products with labels and packaging bearing images of fruits & flowers to lure the unsuspecting consumer looking for chemical free, natural cleaning products. It is imperative that consumers pay attention to these marketing strategies and bring this issue to the manufacturers’ attention. The only way to discourage these manufacturers from producing these products is to letting them know that we as consumers are getting aware of these tactics and we do not condone them. Once these companies recognize that consumer is not so naive, they will slow down or perhaps avoid the greenwashing altogether.
Another business segment that can help in this regard is the advertising companies and their executives who may or may not be fully aware of the finer points of labeling requirements for authentic green products. It is quite possible that advertising agencies are not knowledgeable about the chemical formulas nor they are provided with proper documentation by the marketing or R&D folks at the manufacturers. Perhaps much of green washing is the result of miscommunication and inadvertent actions. Especially the major brands and reputable labels would not want to jeopardize their reputation in favor of quick profits. At any rate, it is incumbent upon retailers and consumers to point out erratic labeling issues and intentional green washing incidents to the manufacturers as well as media sources. We are all into this together and it is our moral, civic as well as environmental responsibility to raise awareness about green washing.
The FTC (Federal Trade Commission) published its “Green Guide” more than twenty years ago which has recently been updated with guidelines, best practices and helpful tips for manufacturers & marketers to steer clear of deceptive claims. Ecofabrik Organic Gear and several other merchants dealing in bamboo products were advised by FTC to avoid using the word “natural fiber” in description of bamboo garments and instead use terminology like “man-made fiber”, “bamboo viscose” and “bamboo rayon” to help consumers understand that bamboo may not be as green as claimed by Chinese manufacturers. We have been raising awareness about bamboo and letting the consumers decide to buy bamboo products for properties other than a 100% green fabric. By the way, there is general agreement among many environmentalists that bamboo is one of the more sustainable sources of cellulose. Then there are those who totally disagree with this on the pretext that bamboo cellulose involves chemical process and as such not green or sustainable. Indeed there is fair amount of controversy about bamboo and the experts continue to express their opinions for and against whether it is a sustainable source or not. We have touched on bamboo fabric in our website and you can find much more material on the internet.
At the end of the day, whether it is a bamboo tee shirt, a hemp t-shirt, a cleaning product or some food product, it is the manufacturer’s responsibility to state the facts about the cellulose/ fiber & fabric or ingredients that go into manufacturing the product. There is really no need to enhance the labels or packaging to augment the green status of the product. State the facts and let the consumer make an informed decision whether to buy the product or bypass it. It would be great to have products that are 100% green from ingredients to manufacturing process to re-cycled packaging and smaller carbon footprint in terms of shipping & transportation. However, that is a lofty goal and consumers understand the challenges faced by the manufacturers. In the meantime, manufacturers, retailers and consumers all need to avoid and discourage any & all attempts to green washing the environmental cause. By tweaking our way to green living we will be doing a disservice to the environment, consumers and the planet earth.