When it comes to green claims who can we trust?
I was talking to a good friend the other day about how she makes purchasing decisions in the supermarket. I should mention by way of context, that my friend lives on an organic property, growing most of her own food and being a nurse, she is also very interested in health. The question I asked her was this: how could she tell if one product was healthier or greener than any other product on the supermarket shelf? Her answer was simple. Trust. After all, why should she, or any other consumers be expected to know what chemical ingredients are in any given product, let alone whether the ingredient is sustainably sourced or how it’s rated in terms of safety for human health or for the environment or how it reacts in combination with the other chemicals it is in formulation with. Of course, she told me, these are issues that she cares very deeply about, but being short on time or motivation to do the research required, trust was the key. So if the company making the product seemed honest and reliable she would prefer that over another. In some cases her shopping methodology would work very well but one of factors it doesn’t take into account is greenwashing. Greenwashing is the name that’s given to the practice of making eco friendly claims which are not substantiated, for the purpose of selling more products.
I’m not arguing that shoppers should know more about how enzymes in laundry products can affect the skin or whether or not a product contains potential carcinogens, - after all, in Australasia there is no legal requirement to even provide a list of ingredients on cleaning product labels - but there a couple of things that might help sort the greenwash claims from the genuine ones so that you don’t just have to rely on trust. Responsible companies tend to be more willing to be transparent (as they have less to hide) and are voluntarily listing all their ingredients on their product labels. This practice allows consumers who have specific chemical allergies to identify possible allergens in the products and it also allows people to carry out their own research as they choose. The other thing to look out for is third party accreditations - does the product carry an ecolabel? Lead author, Professor Janet Hoek from Otago University says even self-described ethical con-sumers didn’t have time to assess detailed evidence on every product. “We urgently need some clear standards that are easy for people to understand and that they can trust. (More on this in the NZ Herald article below)
Some helpful links:
‘Ethical’ product claims need verified labels: study authors - NZ Herald Website
Nasty Chemical Index - a list of chemicals to avoid on the ecostore website
Ingredients Index - a full list of ingredients used in our products, including where they come from, what role they have in the formulation and other interesting information on the ecostore website
Cosmetics Database - a useful guide to the chemicals used in everyday products complete with a safety / hazard rating on the Environmental Working Group website
Environmental Choice - more information about NZ’s ecolabel on the Environmental Choice website