As more and more consumers are concerned with “going green,” greenwashing is becoming an ever-larger problem worldwide. Essentially, greenwashing is when businesses and companies make their products appear to be green when they are not, enticing consumers to spend more money on them undeservedly.
While there are certainly some great companies out there that are using sustainable manufacturing techniques and organic, natural ingredients for their food, the truth is that grocery store greenwashing makes it incredibly difficult to discern which food products really are green.
Going green can be more expensive than buying conventional products, so you definitely want to ensure that you’re spending your limited grocery funds on products that really are green – better for you, your family and the Earth. Next time you whip out one of your favourite grocery credit cards to pay for a basket-full of seemingly green groceries, you should check for these telltale signs of greenwashing.
While you’ll still get the credit card points for buying not-really-green products, you won’t get the health or environmental benefits of buying green when you fall prey to geenwashing techniques like these.
1. The “all-natural” label
Vague labels, particularly “all-natural” or “made with natural ingredients,” are one of the primary signs of greenwashing. Many things that are natural – such as formaldehyde and carbon – are not necessarily beneficial for you or the environment. Even if a product is made with natural ingredients that aren’t harmful in and of themselves, these natural ingredients may be sourced in a way that wrecks the environment. So when you see a label that says “all-natural,” check the ingredient list and do some research about how the company that makes the product sources its ingredients.
2. No proof of green-ness
Similar to the “all-natural” label are product labels that make all sorts of grand claims without any proof to back them up. For instance, a product may say that it’s made with 75% post-consumer recycled materials, but if that claim isn’t backed up by a third party, you have no way of knowing if it’s true. While the government does its best to ensure that companies only make advertising claims that are actually true, you should be wary of buying products that claim to be green but don’t back up their claims with third-party verification.
3. Misleading labels
Some products seem to offer third-party verification of their claims, but don’t really have it. For instance, some products may use a label that looks similar to the official Fair Trade label, even though they aren’t really Fair Trade. When you’re in the grocery store, it pays to recognise the actual certification labels for various green and fair trade organisations so you know which products are using real labels and which are just misleading customers.
4. Being organic-ish
Products that are “made with organic ingredients” are often misleading. This greenwashing issue occurs most often with processed products like snack foods and frozen meals. If you read the ingredients, the product may be made with a handful of organic ones – alongside a huge list of manmade junk that you can’t even pronounce. Remember, the most environmentally friendly products are those that take the least amount of processing, so do your best to avoid these organic-ish products when grocery shopping.
5. Green imagery
Whether you realise it or not, there are certain pieces of imagery and even typefaces that are associated with the green movement and green products. One New York Times article states that greenwashing companies take advantage of these images, colours and narratives to sell products that aren’t necessarily green. Things to look out for include muted or subdued colours, images of nature or local-looking farms, or products that link themselves to raising money for good causes.
6. Claims of “organic” that aren’t true
While the Australian Competition & Consumer Commission is cracking down on claims of organic ingredients that aren’t backed up or that simply aren’t true, it pays for consumers to learn to recognise when a product that claims to be organic really is. The Australia Certified Organic Bud label can only be used on products that are certified organic, so it’s a good idea to check for that label if your goal is to buy organic food and personal-care products.