Product promotion plays the most crucial role in deciding the fate of a product and companies earmark huge sums towards it. The modern populace is very conscious about adopting a healthier lifestyle and well understands the benefits of natural products vis-a-vis synthetic product. Unfortunately, some companies try to benefit from such consumer preferences, not by improving their product and ingredients but by unethically promoting their synthetic products as organic / natural. As the saying goes, ‘old wine in a new bottle’, these companies have made minor changes in their products and altered their PR campaign to brand their products green, organic or natural. This phenomenon is known as ‘Greenwashing’ and big corporate companies are leaving no stone unturned to convince consumers that their product are organic / natural.
While there are laws and regulations in all countries to protect the interests of the consumer, these laws always have certain loopholes, which such companies exploit to misguide consumers.
Here are 5 key ways in which companies go Greenwashing:
1. Usage of Organic Term
The latest fizz is ‘Organic’, ‘Natural’ and ‘Herbal’. There are many products on shelves that have organic written on them, however, one careful reading of the packaging reveals that most such products have no certification from any recognized agency or among its various ingredients only one or two elements are of organic origin. This is sheer cheating and manufacturers are taking advantages of our very loosely constituted laws and regulations in this regard. Greenwashing has become a new technique to cheat gullible consumers.
The labeling of product as Organic have very stringent rules in the developed countries, such as the USA. The USDA structures organic labeling as Organic ‘only’ if the food / product constitutes more than 95% of organic ingredients. Only such products can use the USDA seal.1
2. No third-party certification
As a consumer one should not buy a product based just on the manufacturers’ claim for ‘organic’ or ‘natural, as many companies take shield of greenwashing to market their product in such categories. Everyone should look for a certification by any third-party certifier, such as NATRUE, on the packaging, as these certification companies dig deep into the source of every ingredients and based on their inflexible criteria provide a valid certification. All ethical companies back their claims through proper certifications and documentations and their packaging features the logo of their certifier.
3. Masking synthetic ingredients by highlighting 1 or 2 organic ingredients
The biggest enemy of truly Natural and Organic personal care / cosmetics is greenwashing. There are several companies that have only one or two truly green products in their entire product range and they use that single product to project their image as an eco-sensitive company. This is sheer Greenwashing, and is aimed only at misleading consumers to think that all the products of the company are “green, natural, eco-friendly”.
To safeguard the interest of innocent consumers, several certification agencies, such as NATRUE, have made stern rules as certification is a serious process which implies commitment. These agencies guarantee that at least 75% of all the individual products in a defined series, that are either identified by the brand or the sub-brand, must be compliant with their standards.2 NATRUE doesn’t offer certification to such companies with only one or two products and prohibits them from implementing deceptive marketing strategies.
4. Hiding harmful ingredients behind soft names
An inquisitive customer always looks for details in the packaging. Towards the end of the ingredient list many a times we stumble upon words like added fragrance, flavor or perfume. For ages Indian consumers have accepted and ignored it, but in truth these are the things which should not be taken lightly. These are serious synthetic ingredients and could well be toxic / harmful.
In certain cases, these ingredients pose a high risk to our health. A case in point is there is a popular artificial flavor called butter flavour diacetyl, which is used in products such as microwave popcorn. This artificial flavor is linked to a rare and deadly respiratory disease known as Popcorn Workers Lung.
There are many more flavor enhancers, which may or may not have adverse effect on our health. But, unless the complete list is printed on label, consumers cannot take an informed decision.
5. Disclosure of ALL Ingredients
In India, many companies don’t disclose all ingredients. They mention only natural and organic ingredient on their label and for other ingredients use terms like excipients – QS or cream base. In the USA and many developed countries of Europe, companies have to provide complete ingredient list on food and cosmetics labels, in descending order of quantity used.3
The European Union, on 30 November 2009, passed a regulation (Regulation (EC) No 1223/2009), which mandates that a company must ensure that its products meet all the relevant safety requirements under the legislation the packaging must contain a range of information, like complete list of ingredients, contents and precautions for use among others.4
There are similar laws in India also that are monitored by Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI).5 There is no legal binding for the companies to disclose all the ingredients and allows then to simply use the term Base or QS.
Markets today are flooded with products that promise to be green, but only on the packaging, while the actual content continues to remain a mystery, as before. Unless citizens demand the government for stricter regulation that necessitates manufacturers to disclose all the ingredients, we will continue to play in the hands of big corporate companies.
Safe Childhood is one campaign that is raging a war on such companies that are misguiding customers through their green-washing PR techniques.
Be aware! Be safe!
- Organic Labeling, United States Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Marketing Service
- NATRUE criteria, nature.org
- Cosmetics Labeling Requirements, US FDA
- Regulation (EC) No 1223/2009, European Union
- Food safety and standards (packaging and labelling) regulations- 2011, India