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The Truth or Dirty Truth (Posted On: Wednesday, March 10, 2010)

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Have you been greenwashed? “The green market is booming in Canada, where 70 per cent of consumers say they are willing to spend up to 20 per cent more for environmentally preferable items”, says Nancy Wright, vice-president of Vancouver’s Globe Foundation which conducts market research and organizes trade shows for green business.

This is music to the ears of any environmental advocate.  It is also a major marketing opportunity for some manufacturers.  A company may claim to be ‘green’ but actually, words such as non-toxic, hypoallergenic (a term invented in the 1950’s by cosmetic advertisers), fragrance free, earth smart, and natural are really meaningless with no set standards, so don’t always trust what you read.  The best defense is awareness and education.  For example, let’s take the term -“Non-toxic.”  Everything is toxic in sufficient dosage.  Think about it.  Salt is a natural product but in some situations, salt can be very dangerous to environmental and human health. 

“Chemical-free” is another term often used on labels. Nothing is free of chemicals, not even YOU.  Water is made up of chemicals: all plants, animals, and humans are made of chemicals as are all man-made products.  Meat labelled “natural” might have been treated with antibiotics and a chicken labelled “free range” might never have gone outside.  Words such as these are irrelevant and distract the consumer from finding a greener option.
In November 2007, TerraChoice released a report entitled "Six Sins of Greenwashing" - A Study of Environmental Claims in North American Consumer Markets.  The study made several great suggestions about how to look for greenwashed products:   “A bathroom cleaner splashes “Chlorine Free” on its label but doesn’t mention that it still contains other potentially dangerous ingredients. Light bulb manufacturers might claim their products are energy-efficient but provide no evidence or certification. Phrases such as “Chemical-free,” “Non-toxic,” and “All Natural” lead us to believe a product is safe.  But something can be All Natural and still be hazardous: arsenic, uranium, crude oil, mercury, and tobacco, these are all “natural.” 

Be aware of greenwashing: a phenomenom in marketing.  You can probably assume that products that have their environmental goodness splashed all over the label aren’t so great.  Usually, it’s the products that are sitting quietly on the shelf (like baking soda and vinegar) that are your best bet.  Research the product by checking the manufacturer’s website, and once you know that the product is safe, continue to purchase it. 
Look for the company’s environmental mission statement or commitment to the environment and find out what the manufacturer’s policy is on the environment or on sustainability.  This will tell a great deal about the company.  To learn how to avoid being greenwashed by eco-marketers.   

Investigate the ingredients; Looking at the ingredients specifically is a good start to help you learn more about any product that you are using.  If you can’t get the ingredients, it’s a good idea to steer clear of the product.  What you don’t know may do damage.
Here are 12 chemicals that studies have shown to have serious health impacts:
• Antibacterials
• Coal tar colours:  FD&C Blue 1, Green 3
• Diethanolamine (DEA)
• 1,4-Dioxane (present in sodium laureth sulfate and other –eth ingredients)
• Formaldehyde
• Fragrance
• Hydroquinone
• Mercury and lead
• Nanoparticles
• Parabens (methyl-, ethylpropyl-, butyl-, isobutyl-)
• Petroleum distillates
• Phenylenediamine (PPD)

These are just a few harmful chemicals, but there are many more since about 100,000 chemicals exist today.  For Canada specific info, click here - particularly “toxics dictionary” for help with terminology. 

Buying locally made products has many benefits.  It helps to reduce your carbon footprint and supports your local, regional or national economy.  Remember too, local business people and farmers live in the area; therefore, it’s much easier to get to know these people, find out more about them, and get to know their products.

You may not have the time to do all of the research suggested above, but at The Environment Network’s new Shoppe at 44 St.Marie Street in Collingwood, we have researched our product extensively and assure you that it is a safer alternative.  It’s easy to be greenwashed.  Learn how to sort out the imposters from the genuinely green and reduce the impact of greenwashing by sharing your findings with friends and family.  Be aware and your general health will thank you.

Melanie Vollick
The Environment Network

Note:  The photos in this article are products available at The Environment Network Shoppe and have been researched extensively.


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