Buyer Beware

Everywhere you look, products are labeled "green."  Most of the people Jane and I are friendly with seek to leverage their spending as part of a commitment to improving the environment (or at least, helping to stave off disaster). We jokingly refer to this as middle-class guilt.  Marketers are, of course, aware of this trend in consumer thinking and seek to exploit it.  I recently heard a term which describes this practice quite well... "Greenwashing."

The term is generally used when significantly more money or time has been spent advertising being green (that is, operating with consideration for the environment), rather than spending resources on environmentally sound practices. This is often portrayed by changing the name or label of a product, to give the feeling of nature, for example putting an image of a forest on a bottle containing harmful chemicals. Environmentalists often use greenwashing to describe the actions of energy companies, which are traditionally the largest polluters.  -- Source Wikipedia

This can also hold true for the issue of animal welfare. We've all seen egg cartons labeled "cage free," and you know what that means!

Cage-Free:As the term implies, hens laying eggs labeled as "cage-free" are uncaged inside barns or warehouses, but generally do not have access to the outdoors. They have the ability to engage in many of their natural behaviors such as walking, nesting, and spreading their wings. Beak cutting and forced molting through starvation are permitted. There is no third-party auditing. -- Source HSUS

We should be saavy consumers. The EnviroMedia Greenwashing Index suggests that we look at a companies website and look for information on their environmentally sustainable practices.  They also suggest running an internet search using the company name and "environmental."  This should indicate if there are any serious concerns against that company.  This can also hold true for those of us looking to purchase products that are animal-friendly, simply replace "environmental" with "animal welfare."

As our dollars seem to be buying less, I'm sure most of us want to make sure that when we spend a bit extra to do something good for the animals or the environment, that extra money is actually benefitting those causes!


  1. Beware, indeed. It’s unbelievable what you find the “GREEN” label on these days. Like Clorox’s new “Green Works” line of household cleaning products. They claim their products are 99% natural.

    Here’s the list of ingredients for the All-purpose Cleaner: water, alkyl polyglucoside, ethanol SDA-3C, glycerine, lemon essential oil, preservative (Kathon) and colorant (Milliken Liquitint Blue HP dye and Bright Yellow dye X).

    Hmmm. Well, I guess water and lemon essential oil are “natural.”

    Oh, and did Clorox mention that they still do animal testing on some of their products?

    How happy am I that they have acquired Burt’s Bees? Eeeeeek!

  2. People often think companies are forced by new regulations to adhere to certain green or animal welfare standards. In fact, they don’t have to be forced at all. Companies are very eager to create the perception that they’re “global citizens,” motivated by something other than profit. Creating the perception that they are “green” or are concerned about “animal welfare” creates a favorable impression, which sells more product. Advertising agencies use the term “image” advertising. A good example is that every single oil company is currently running an ad campaign touting their commitment to alternate fuels and their concern for the planet (while at the same time they’re subsidizing “think tanks” to produce information that casts doubt on the significance of global warming). Appearing motivated by something other than profit has the end result of boosting their profits.

  3. Hi Sparrow,
    Thanks for sharing that link. I loved it…

    Hi Zesty,
    Glad you found it informative.

    Hi Earthmother,
    It’s just so irritating, isn’t it? You buy “organic” or “green” because they mean something. Then the corporate marketers notice the trend and take over the word so it really no longer has any relation to what you thought it meant, except to increase the profits of the corporations who’ve completely compromised the meaning of the word. (ranting)

    Hi Lex,
    Vegan Mob sounds like a wonderful idea!

    Hi David,
    Thanks for the marketing lesson. I don’t remember hearing about “image” advertising before. I was just talking about BP with Jane a few weeks ago. Their new ad campaign centers around that exactly, and they’re now calling themselves “Beyond Petroleum.” It’s getting to the point where TiVo/DVR is a necessity. Most of the commercials seem to be blatantly misrepresenting the facts. It’s frightening.

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