It's good that consumers are learning to keep a discerning eye on companies' green efforts. Greenwashing - the marketing of a product to make it appear more eco-friendly than it actually is - runs rampant in a market where the number of green products is increasing every year. A study by TerraChoice Marketing found that 98 percent of green products committed at least one of seven green 'sins' that include hidden trade-offs, vagueness, irrelevance, or fibbing. Because we have the power to cast a vote for green each time we go through a supermarket check-out, it's important that we know, and get, what we're paying for.
But I wonder if, among a certain set of green-heeled consumers, we're too eager to call out corporations for greenwashing needlessly. For example, I read that Reynolds Wrap, maker of aluminum foil, had committed a cardinal greenwashing sin with their new 100 percent recycled aluminum foil that recently hit the shelves:
Reynolds has repackaged their aluminum (Al) foil as made from 100% recycled (!) aluminum. And the familiar blue box is now mostly green with a tree growing across the front.
Never mind that all brands of Al foil have been made almost entirely from recycled aluminum since the 1970s. Even worse, they [Reynolds Wrap] put together a press kit announcing this new/old product and the blogosphere has been astroturfed with their wonderful news.
At least for the last couple of decades, nearly all the aluminum in the US market is recycled. Al is simply too valuable to landfill.
Not so fast. I talked to Reynolds Wrap, and the product is, indeed, new. "Until recently, reliable and high quality sources of recycled aluminum have been inconsistent and not to the standard we require for the strength and durability of Reynolds Wrap," said a spokesperson for Reynolds. The unrecycled foil is made from virgin aluminum made from bauxite. The unrecycled and new recycled aluminum foils have a similar feel, performance and price point. The packaging is also recycled, and uses water-based ink. Recycling aluminum foil uses 5 only percent of the energy needed to make the original.
There are other green consumers who would say that, by virtue of being disposable, Reynolds Wrap can never be green. Same goes for the biodegradable disposable cutlery and water bottles that I've begun to notice popping up in cafes. In some ways, they are right. Supposedly, Americans throw away enough aluminum each month to rebuild our commercial air fleet.
But, let's face it - we will not wake up tomorrow to a world that has no need or desire for disposables like aluminum foil or cutlery, so these products aren't going away any time soon. That means consumers can make a choice: biodegradable or landfill, recycled or virgin, or the choice not to buy the product at all. Is our definition of greenwashing too broad, or too narrow?