Recently I posted on detoxing from the outside in – if you missed it you can check it out here. Before I shared this post, I swept my house for nasty chemical-ridden products replacing suspicious looking items with supposed healthier, green versions. I checked the labels on each product I purchased and convinced myself that the extra coin was worth it because I was looking after my body (I still believe it is, but that’s another point).
As far as I was concerned, post the purge I lived in a happy, healthy home free of most common household toxins. I’m here today to declare that I fell victim to green washing.
Having done my research on the topic I thought I was armed with the knowledge I needed to make smart purchasing decisions. I decided that I would try and buy a mix of products from my local organic health food shop (which has a stellar beauty section) and my closet big chain supermarket. I guess you could say I was hopeful that I wouldn’t always need to visit the specialist store to get good quality products.
At the supermarket I picked up a pretty green coloured shampoo and conditioner brand plastered with words such as organic, paraben free, natural, no SLS and vegan.
Now before I continue on (in my own defense) when starting a home detox it’s hard enough to recognise all the names of the chemicals that are no good, let alone the terms manufacturers come up with to hide these nasties. This is where I went wrong.
The pretty packaging and marketing caught my attention, and truth be told, I brushed over the ingredients list trusting that a brand that promotes some good factors must indeed be good on all levels.
It was only yesterday morning, months after making the switch to clean products, that I noticed hidden among the ingredients on both containers was the word Fragrance; which in chemical speak means phthalates.
Phthalates are used to soften and increase the flexibility of plastics and to make aromas stick around. They are common in household cleaning products, scented beauty products, food packaging and household air fresheners. They are thought to increase the risk of asthma, attention deficit disorders, breast cancer, obesity, autism spectrum disorders, as well as male and female fertility issues (this last one being of most concern to me!).
It’s also one of the key toxin groups that I had tried to eliminate from our home.
I’d fell victim to a trend that that is increasingly seeking to lure in vulnerable shoppers looking to make smart decisions. The big manufactures know that products labelled organic, natural or healthy can be charged at a premium, so it’s a gold mine opportunity if they can get away with it.
The issue being that only one ingredient in the end product needs to come from organic sources for a company to label the product as ‘organic’. The only true way to buy organic is to look for the certified organic logo.
This marketing technique is called green washing and its objective is to trick consumers into thinking that they’re buying products that are better for them and the environment.
Green washing is defined as “When a company or organisation spends more time and money claiming to be “green” through advertising and marketing than actually implementing business practices that minimise environmental impact.*”
The practice isn’t just reserved for cosmetics and beauty items. In the food world, the term Low Fat or Reduced Fat is probably the greatest case of green washing. While the product may indeed be low in fat, in most situations the flavour is retained by pumping in sugar to make the product still taste good. Other common terms that are put on food to make it appear healthy are Gluten Free, No Preservatives, No Added Sugar, Lite, No Added Colours, Natural, Organic, and Healthy. While these terms can indicate that a product is better for you, there is no universal standard for each term thus the meaning can (and often does) vary between products and brands. They’re also often used as a cover for other hidden baddies.
In the environmental sense, green washing can include green packaging, or pictures of trees and nature on the packaging to make it seem more environmentally friendly. The words Pure, Clean and Natural are also played up.
Battling this minefield is near impossible. My recommendation is to research and identify the chemicals that you want to avoid, then create a check list on your phone that you can use whenever shopping. Also include the common terms that some chemicals are referred to, such as Fragrance.
If you’ve got time, try also researching the brand before purchasing. See what is said about them online and if anyone has reviewed their products before. When in doubt, email the brand to find out what exactly they use or visit your local specialist store to ask someone for help. If you’re located in Sydney, the awesome crew at Taste Organic in Crows Nest are always happy to lend a helping hand.