Thursday, October 28, 2010

Have you been 'Greenwashed'?

Green-wash (green’wash’, -wôsh’) – verb: the act of misleading consumers regarding the environmental practices of a company or the environmental benefits of a product or service.
Let me reassure you, this posting is 100% fat-free, sodium-free, sugar-free, cyclamate-free, aspartame-free, phthalate-free, BPA-free, and its organic, carbon-footprint-free and, well, just plain free! I think I may be channelling George Carlin, I wish I had his talent.
This week an environmental marketing firm called TerraChoice released its research on the claims made by almost 5300 products as to their "greenness" and found almost 96% were lying. What a shock, companies exaggerate the effectiveness of their products! Of course this a tradition as old as, well, really old, I was going to say snake-oil salesmen, but I'm pretty sure the tradition goes back to the very first days of the idea of marketing. There are a couple of stories here, first there is TerraChoice.
TerraChoice is like the Underwriters Labs of the 'green universe'. In fact it has been acquired by Underwriters Labs - ULC (Canada) in a very recent deal. A TerraChoice endorsement should give consumers some confidence that the product so endorsed is legit. Nothing wrong with that, I like the idea of UL/ULC or CSA labels on any of the things I buy, and a TerraChoice label sounds like a good idea. Of course I'm still skeptical, not necessarily of TerraChoice but of the need to buy 'green' products, but that is another story. People should be free to choose whether they want to be 'green' or not and I'm OK with that.  Here is a private company that can survive by confirming claims made by manufacturers as to the efficacy of their products based on empirical evidence and thus benefit consumer choice.
So what about empirical evidence? In the last few weeks the Canadian government has declared bisphenol A, also known as BPA to be a toxic substance. This is after it declared BPA banned from baby bottles, now it is toxic at any level and needs to be removed from food and beverage can-liners and even cash register tape. 
Canada is leading the charge in this endeavour, the problem is no one is following. Even the Europeans think that BPA is perfectly safe because, well, there is no empirical evidence that supports banning it at these levels.
Claims have been made that BPA is linked to breast and prostate cancer, obesity, diabetes, attention deficit hyperactivity, autism, liver disease, ovarian disease, disease of the uterus, low sperm count and heart disease. As John Stossel says in a recent posting "when a chemical is said to cause so many disorders, that's a sure sign of unscientific hysteria."

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