From the Editor: Be wary of businesses using eco-labels and greenwashing techniques
Everyone wants a piece of sustainability, or at least a piece of what you’ll pay for it
Columns / May 19, 2021
There is always that aisle in a retail store promoting “sustainability.” It’s usually minimalist, has signs of cardboard somewhere, and has the colour green proudly displayed on the items. Unfortunately, most of these objects have a little tint of greenwash, which is not only found in stores but also other resource industries that desperately want to be able to claim they are sustainable.
Sustainability is a trending subject. Gen Z is aware that their future is about to be bombarded by heat waves, pollution, and rising sea levels. They have been actively protesting and calling out political leaders and demanding a sustainable and renewable way of living.
While youth slowly develop ecological anxiety, some organizations take advantage of the situation to create product labels that promote sustainability.
In the hopes of helping the planet, many individuals fall for these greenwash labels that don’t support the earth, but instead place green dollar bills in the organization’s pocket.
Consumers desire to live an eco-friendly lifestyle, which is why many will pay more for eco-friendly products. “Reports such as Nielsen Insights suggest the majority (73%) of consumers would change their consumption habits to reduce their impact on the environment, and almost half (46%) would switch to environmentally friendly products.”
Most of the greenwash labels can be found in food, clothing, and cleaning supplies. The packaging can say vegan, plant-based, sustainable, recyclable, organic, wellness, natural, biodegradable, green, and made of recycled material.
A way to verify if the item is truly eco-friendly is by looking for the “Six Sins of Greenwashing” by Terrachoice Environmental Marketing Inc.
Sin one is the hidden trade-off, suggesting a product is green based on a single environmental attribute. Sin two is no proof of “any environmental claim that cannot be substantiated by easily accessible supporting information.” Sin three is vagueness when a product isn’t properly defined.
Sin four is irrelevance, which is when a product has an environmental claim that has nothing to do with the product’s properties. Sin five is fibbing when a product makes false environmental claims. Sin six is the lesser of two evils when a product makes “‘green’
claims that may be true within the product category, but that risk distracting the consumer from the greater environmental impacts of the category as a whole.”
The world of consumerism isn’t the only one being greenwashed. The forestry industry is now putting a sustainable tag on its practices.
Canada has three forest certification systems: the Canadian Standards Association, the Forest Stewardship Council, and the Sustainable Forestry Initiative.
Forest certification “arose as a way of addressing public concerns about tropical deforestation and forest degradation,” reads a report by the Food and Agriculture Organization for the United Nations.
The Sustainable Forestry Initiative gives forest certifications to forestry industries in Canada and the United States. However, it has received some criticism for greenwashing.
SFI currently allows the conversion of natural forests into plantations, or farms of trees. The organization also allows clearcutting.
In their 2022 standards and rules report, SFI states that “management intensities are characterized by managed natural forests and plantation forestry.”
“Historically, fires and other natural disturbances created forest openings and the types of habitat needed by these early succession forest dependent species…however, it can easily be created by proper selection of harvesting methods including clearcutting and the use of prescribed fire,” reads the report.
In their article, the Natural Resources Defense Council also stated that SFI has no meaningful protections for threatened species habitat.
As climate change continues, companies will keep on creating deceptive new labels that claim to be eco-friendly. Luckily, if these get too overwhelming and confusing, websites like “Greener Choices” can help define the purpose of different eco-labels for consumers.
Hopefully, we don’t get deceived into believing something is eco-friendly when it isn’t.