If you want to be sure that you’re making ethical choices, you need to know about greenwashing!
A genuinely ethical and environmentally sound brand has nothing to hide. Unfortunately there are ways for even the least ethical of brands to present a squeaky clean façade to the world. This is called ‘greenwashing’, ‘green washing’ or creating a ‘green sheen’ – the use of certain tactics to cover up or deflect attention away from the flawed reality of what lies behind the façade.
Here is some information that will help make it so much harder to be fooled by slick marketers. This will help you to make more informed choices about what you use on you and your family, and to be confident that those choices are good.
1. BEWARE The Hidden Trade Off
This is the most common sin. It’s when a brand puts all the focus on one very specific claim, while ignoring many other elements of the company that are less savoury.
For example, a company might claim to be carbon neutral, giving the impression of being an environmentally sensitive and ethical company, yet their products might still be jam-packed with chemicals or producing byproducts that are harmful to people and the environment. Or a brand may donate a percentage of profits to an orang-utan charity or breast cancer research, despite their overall business being unhealthy and/or environmentally damaging. They may be telling you the truth about one aspect of their brand – but they are not telling you the whole truth.
2. BEWARE No Proof of Claims
Because there are so few regulations regarding skin and hair products, just about anyone can make some sort of claim about being natural, organic, plant-derived, healthy or ethical, whether or not it is true. The terms have been abused by so many brands that they have been rendered meaningless.
It is important to get independent, meaningful verification of the claims that brands make. Independence means they have no vested interest in hiding the truth from you and indeed that their reputation would be damaged if it were to be found that they were not sufficiently diligent. Meaningful means that the standards employed are scientific, objective, verifiable and they are evidence of a standard that is elevated, distinguishable and valued by customers.
3. BEWARE Vagueness
This is when a company uses terms that confuse or mislead the customer. In our industry, this is rife! Think of all the pseudo-scientific terms that sound impressive but are meaningless. They use abbreviations instead of full chemical names and create fancy names to disguise the true nature of the chemicals. Think of the TV ads showing diagrams and animations to “simulate” the action of a product. Fanciful nonsense! This clip provides some spectacular examples: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZN27wC6pj_o
It is also vague to include the deliberate misuse of words. We know of one brand that lists Methyl Paraben as an “Organic Preservative” in its ingredients list. This is misleading – let us explain why… The word “organic”, when speaking of chemistry, refers to the presence of a carbon atom in the chemical structure – like petrol has a carbon atom in its structure. When speaking in the context of farming, food or personal care products, the same word refers to the practice of farming plants and/or animals without the use of chemical herbicides, pesticides and so on. There is a big difference!
It is also misleading or vague to call an ingredient “Plant Derived” when it has been through hideous chemical processes, such as ethoxylation or alkoxylation. Whatever is left after those processes has little in common with the original ingredient.
4. BEWARE Irrelevance
Irrelevant claims are evidence of a brand that is aware of having no point of difference and being desperate to hide that fact. So they look for something to say even though it is not the least bit important in the current context.
A commonly cited example of this is when a brand claims to be free of CFCs, even though they’ve been banned for 20-odd years! Another example is when a company claims to be free of something (eg certain chemical or animal ingredients) even though that ingredient may never be used in the industry or that type of product anyhow. An alternative is that it is a claim completely irrelevant to stakeholders – like claiming to have no Palm Oil in a product and therefore being Orang-utan friendly, even though Palm Oil (or ingredients derived from it) may never have been used in that kind of product.
5. BEWARE Lesser of Two Evils
This is when a company claims moral highground for having selected to use Option B instead of Option A. ln many cases Option B may be better, but there are still more effective and more ethical options available. ln other cases, Option B may well have its own swag of issues that are just as bad or even worse than option A, so it is not a lesser evil – it is simply a lesser-known evil!
For example, a lot of companies make a big fuss of the fact that they are free of Sodium Lauryl Sulphate (SLS) and Sodium Laureth Sulphate (SLS). Instead, they use Aluminium Laureth Sulphate. The lesser evils are still harmful ethoxylated petrochemicals with byproducts that can be damaging to health and the environment. An emerging favourite is the claim of being Paraben-Free yet still using questionable chemicals such as BHA, BHT or DMDM Hydantoin. Still other companies make a song and dance of being mineral oil free, yet still using silicone oils (such as Dimethicone and Cyclomethicone) which are known to accumulate in the lymph and liver and are linked to cancer.
6. BEWARE Fibbing
This is when a product makes a claim that is patently untrue. It might be that they falsely claim to be certified by an internationally recognised environmental standard or it might falsely claim to contain (or omit) certain ingredients. Fortunately it is relatively uncommon to find that environmental claims are outright lies, but even so, even one lie is a lie too many and one exaggeration is an exaggeration too many.
7. BEWARE Worshipping False Labels
This is when a brand, through words or images, gives the impression of third-party endorsement where no such endorsement actually exists. There are many possible kinds of false labels, including the improper use of a certification logo, falsely creating the impression that a famous person uses or endorses a brand, and similar. Yes – this does happen and it reeks of desperation!
SO WHERE TO NOW?
Yes we have a vested interest – not in keeping you in the dark, but in helping you to become more informed. The more you know about ethics and chemicals, the more you will understand that Y natural really does have nothing to hide. So we invite you to attend one of our Chemicals To Avoid workshops. These are held regularly at Y natural’s HQ and from time to time we’ll hold a workshop at a Y natural stockist or other venue. Just register on our website and we’ll get in touch to let you know when our next event will be held in your city.
In the meanwhile, here’s some information to get you started…