Monday, June 22, 2009

I've Been Greenwashed!

I've been so careful about reading labels and dissecting the fine print lately, to make sure that the green, eco-friendly, and organic products I buy are, in fact, as pure as advertised. My vigilance is in large part to avoid falling victim to "greenwashing", which is a relatively new marketing ploy-- advertising that proclaims a product is "green" when it's really not. The suggestive wording on the packaging appeals to our subconscious as well as our eco-conscious, luring consumers who want to be more responsible in their product choices to buy what they're selling. However, all greenwashing really does is to get customers to shell out more money while (underhandedly) making them feel good about their decision to "go green". A sneaky and shameless tactic, indeed.

Until now, I've done a pretty good job of outsmarting the marketers-- like 100% natural soda (or yogurt, or granola bar)... made with high fructose corn syrup? Nice try! Environmentally themed t-shirts... woven from 55% polyester blends? For shame! Eco-friendly pesticides? Oxymorons! I know better than to fall for that, don't I?

Today, at my local big-box retailer, I was lured by the earthy green sheen of shampoo and conditioner bottles plastered with happy, earthy words such as "organic!" "natural!" "ultra whipped yogurt proteins!" and "sulfate free!" Topped with a rebate slip for 100% of the purchase price (printed on recycled papers, with soy-based inks), I was hooked. Sold!

(For those of you who are wondering, sulfates are cheap and effective chemical surfactants that are used in products from shampoos to face washes to toothpastes. Manufacturers like them because they're inexpensive and plentiful; they easily break down dirt and oils, and create a rich lather. Some popular sulfates used in cosmetics, however, are also registered pesticides and/or suspected carcinogens, hence the organic movement's attempt to make sulfate-free products. These products are equally effective and often less irritating to skin and eyes [and the environment!], but generally don't foam as well and can often cost more).

It wasn't until after I got my eco-hair cleansers home and tore off (and filled out) the rebate slips that I saw the list of ingredients hiding underneath. Water, Cetyl Alcohol, Behentrimonium Methosulfate... Wait. Methosulfate?!? Not the dreaded Sodium Lauryl Sulfate, but still... It's ingredient #3 in my sulfate-free shampoo?!? D'oh!

Marketers: 1. ChicaGoinGreen: 0.

If it weren't for the fact that I'll be getting my money back in 6-8 weeks (thanks to the strategically placed rebate slips), I would be much more inconsolable than I am. Let this be a lesson to all you fellow planet savers; paying more for an "organic" product doesn't automatically make it better for the environment-- so it pays to do your homework!

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