Many environmental journalists fear Earth Day, even though it may not be obvious. It can feel like a mockery of a constant problem after chronicling the harm done to our planet year in and day out. On April 22, many people will gather to celebrate the Earth, some of them selling trinkets or T-shirts.
Earth Day is also when my inbox is full of greenwashing.
In the last few weeks, I’ve received two to three emails a day with stories about sustainable products and initiatives. Sometimes, the logic behind a product being labeled green is absurdly stretched or flawed. Sometimes, the Earth-friendly score for any innovation being promoted is not as clear.
Greenwashing is a term that describes marketing schemes that try to make a product appear eco-friendly, sustainable, and good for the planet (and therefore guilt-free). However, in reality, the benefits of the product are unclear, unquantified or minuscule. It’s the practice to accept capitalism’s status quo and profit from the public’s desire to do more for the environment.
This is crucial if we want to address consumption patterns. Nicole DarnallArizona State University professor and co-founder of its School of Sustainability, Dr. Sustainable Purchasing Research Initiative.
The Federal Trade Commission was established several years ago. IdentifiedThe number one source for consumer misinformation is greenwashing and green products. Darnall explained that they developed guidelines to control what information companies can release. She thought the guidelines were acceptable. But she’s seen little enforcement.
This has no teeth. What incentive does a company need to be honest? There are at most 450 eco-labels on the market today. Even the most driven consumers would struggle to make sense out of all this.
This is a quick tour of the climate or environment writers email in the lead up to Earth Day.
Awash in green (maybe?) ideas
I received numerous advertisements in my Arizona Republic inbox in March and April. I have categorized some of them here into five different types of greenwashing. Experts like Darnall believe that it is not the existence or potential of these types products or ideas that is the problem. Instead, it is the Earth Day-focused marketing, which is often not clear or regulated, which is what is causing the problem.
1. Don’t simplify non-solutions
- One email calculated how many trees major corporations would need to plant in order to offset their carbon emissions.
- A company that makes energy drinks has revolutionized its packaging. They have created a resealable lid which boasts benefits such as making energy last longer and reducing waste.
- Another company is offering to solve climate problem of packages getting stolen from porches and needing to be replaced with drones to securely deliver mail the last mile to its destination.
- A QR code generator hopes to save tress selling digital business cards. But, when asked emailed questions, they said that they had not calculated how much energy it would take to create, share, and view these on screens.
2. Companies that completely miss this point
- A Canadian energy company offers a more sustainable method of fracking.
- A car racingteam sponsors a DIY oil clean up before a 500 mile race. Fans are invited to take part in the efforts by posting pictures on Instagram of their clean-ups.
3. Products with no clear benefits or ties to sustainability
- One company is creating the first plant-based salt in the world that can reduce sodium intake by up to 40% and is good for high blood sugar.
- Another company will help subsistence farmers combat climate change by allowing them access to blockchain to secure insurance for weather-related events.
- A digital fashion company created a video to help consumers avoid waste and only buy physical items they are familiar with.
- An email titled Earth Day products for the whole family advertises face wipes, baby clothes andhand sanitizer that issomehowearth-friendly in addition to beinga new vegan, moisturizing, nourishing and germ-killing experience.
4. Advertising schemes that focus on the eco-friendly aspects of a product, but neglect the bigger picture
- A fact sheet sent via email outlines the cooling and health benefits of natural turfgrass over synthetic lawn covers. It also discusses the carbon-capture options available for native-plant landscaping.
- One company promotes packaging modifications that eliminate the need to label containers with separate plastic wrappers. This improves recyclability and ignores the general dysfunction of the recycling system.
5. Ideas that seem almost real solutions, but come with a catch
- A furniture company is offering to pick up and donate lightly-usedfurniture to Habitat for Humanity in an Earth Day program that last year helped to keep 2.4 million pounds of furniture out of landfills. However, customers will need to purchase new furniture in order to participate.
- An offer to interview the author a new book on health risks of microplastics also includes that she can speak about her company that uses plastic-free packaging and containers. This is in order to help people start weeding out unnecessary plastic from their lives. It sounds a lot like products we already have.
All of this mixed in with what could be some good ideas, research still pending
- One company claims it is developing Omega-3 supplements made from algae to reduce krill fishing.
- Another company that develops, finances and finances utility-scale solar offered an interview about how the U.S. can increase its energy independence by 2022.
Can we end greenwashing
Darnall states that even though the government isn’t keeping pace with product marketing guidelines enforcement, the Environmental Protection Agency has.Put out a listThey selected eco labels that they felt met certain sustainability standards. It is not comprehensive and they prefer their own labels. Energy StarAnd Water SenseShe said.
It’s a good guideline. If the goal was to shift consumption decisions whether it’s consumers at cash registers or individuals who want to invest in green companies, then they’re less likely than others to have reliable information. It really penalizes companies. These areBlazing trails These are advancing sustainability.”
Learn more about Earth WeekASU will dedicate $192 Million to a sustainable facility, as part of full-fledged Earth Week events
Other lists offer consumers multiple ways for them to verify claims about sustainable products. Morningstar Investment firm, for instance, went through all its companies that claimed to be ESG-forward. This is a way of evaluating responsible practices. Environmental and social governance.
They It ended upGreenwashing misinformation led to the de-listing of 1,200 funds, or about 20%, of their total.
Darnall said that the more players in this space that are critical and monitoring how companies market themselves, the better. Although it is not the perfect solution, it will help.
Consumers can also do a bit ofdigging on their own to assess, to some degree, the likelihood that products advertised as environmentally-friendly actually are. Darnall states that the best eco labels are those sponsored by non-profits. Next are those that are backed by government agencies. Because of their low expectations for environmental performance and reliability, the most reliable are those created by industry.
This is not true for all companies. However, capitalism’s rules suggest that consumers can vote with their dollars for more transparency in sustainability fact checking. This may bring more clarity to the situation.
It is important not to get carried away by the enthusiasm for companies that sweep their practices under the rug. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has just released their latest report. It stated that there are two main actions needed to curb the impacts.
The IPCC Report:Climate experts believe the world is at “a crossroads”, but offer hope with concrete actions
Darnall believes the greenwashing flood is also distracting from important discussions about how we can reinvent the food system while respecting the personal choices of those who eat.
Darnall stated that he feels that the conversation is still full with many distractions. We must think about what we eat if we want to make fundamental changes. There are many factors that make processed food extremely energy- and water-intensive and costly for the environment.
Rule of thumb (green)
If you are trying to navigate through a sea filled with fake-green products, this may be a good rule:
It might feel like a climate solutions gimmick.
For decades, the top climate scientists around the world have repeated the same message: We need to reduce emissions and transition to renewable energies. Every few years, a new report of 3,000 pages explains it in greater detail. But the overall message is the same.
More:The power of sun, people, and politics. All 3 are essential for the climate.
Innovation is important, but actual solutions to climate change will not be delivered to your inbox like a Nigerian prince with a life-changing offer. Consistent, conscious, comprehensive change is what will make real progress. This is just like the real life hacks that we all know, even if they aren’t always implemented.
However, the chance to reduce warming is only once in a lifetime, as the Nigerian princes claim. It is up to us to seize it.
You can save money and the earth by making conscious lunch choices. Also, you can unplug any appliances in your house while you’re out and tell your family and friends why you like them.
Email me if you have an interesting personal story about trying to be a better green spender than a product. Enjoy theEarth every Friday, and every day.
Joan Meiners, Climate News andStorytelling Reporter for The Arizona Republic and Azcentral. She earned her Ph.D. in Ecology before becoming a journalist. FollowJoanon Twitter @beecycles or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.