Greenwashing is taking over. It’s absolutely everywhere, from your health food stores to your grocery stores to your Instagram feed. Happy, smiling, skinny people touting the benefits of whatever the fuck they are selling that day. The benefits being that it is good for the environment, good for the body, and obviously, good for the soul.
I’m fucking over it.
As a semi die-hard environmentalist (I love meat and my wardrobe), I used to roll my eyes whenever someone would salivate over a product simply because it was natural. Now, it’s starting to grind my gears so hard I’m sending sparks. Let’s get one thing straight: natural does not automatically mean better for you. It just wouldn’t make any sense. Rubbing poison ivy on yourself, something that is whole-heartedly natural, would probably piss off most people’s skin. Besides, a lot of synthetic ingredients are derived from the natural world. Aspirin is basically just a willow tree, but it has been altered to make it more potent and more stable.
The words natural, sustainable, and organic (don’t get me started on GMO-Free) has been thrown around so much that they’ve lost all meaning to consumers. Pop your product into a cardboard box, slap a natural label on it and people will be lining up to get it. Even if it’s not doing the environment, or you, any favours. I’ve become exhausted as a consumer, needing to constantly be on the look-out for greenwashing.
Recently, I stumbled upon a local soap maker, and excited to give my money to a fellow neighbour (albeit it one that lives miles away), I searched their website for any ingredients I don’t like to see in my soap. There’s only one that bothers me: palm oil. We all know, by now at least, the destruction that palm oil has caused to the rainforest, animals, and the people that inhabit the area. Oh, you haven’t? Take a little look at this beauty of a page, complete with devastating photos.
Anyways, I scanned the list of ingredients and did a little happy dance when I didn’t see any palm oil in sight. I ordered the product, loved the product, and decided to buy some more. Thinking that a few of their soaps didn’t contain any palm oil and that they were blasting on about being local and sustainable, yada yada, I bought some new soaps to try. A couple of problems arose, as they usually do when something seems too good to be true. They wrap their product in plastic. Oh, sorry, it’s biodegradable, so no worries! Except, there’s no reason to be wrapping soap in plastic. Most soap makers, especially those of small businesses, use paper, a small cardstock wrapped around the bar, a stamp smushed beautifully into the bar, or nothing at all. Just because something is biodegradable doesn’t necessarily mean it’s better, it doesn’t necessarily mean that it is needed.
Ignoring the biodegradable plastic, I decided to give the artisan the benefit of the doubt. Perhaps they started with this plastic and are moving away from it, but have loads left. A quick e-mail and I could find out what I needed to know, I could tell them my concerns and perhaps spark a change. It was a hurdle, but one that could easily be jumped. My package arrived, I waited the couple of days that makes me feel better about touching anything in this new life of ours, and happily opened it up to reveal my purchase. I flipped the bars around in my hand, sniffing them, then glanced at the ingredient list. Lo and behold, I found palm oil nestled happily between other much more environmentally friendly ingredients.
Well, fuck me.
This isn’t the first time that palm oil has snuck into my ingredients list. It’s popped up everywhere from my foods to my toothpaste to my skin and hair-care. I’ve slowly pushed it out of my daily life, but it just keeps creeping back in, usually when I think I’ve quashed it. Like, the wonderful time that I bought soap (it’s always soap, isn’t it?) thinking it was a good choice. Yes, it was wrapped in far too much cardboard, but it was cardboard, so I didn’t worry too much about it. The outside read that it was made with coconut oil and essential oils. Being someone who makes soap herself, but gets tired of doing it all the time, I knew that you could easily make soap with just coconut oil, lye, and some essential oils. I happily skipped out of Marshalls, then opened up my new goodie. Inside, the bar was wrapped in plastic AND contained a long list of ingredients that included, you guessed it, palm oil. Greenwashing at its fucking best, my friends.
Don’t worry, palm oil was to be found in other places, too. The soul-destroying oil has also crept into my work life. I took a freelance job for a company, excited to work for them when they claimed they made sustainable products. They seemed nice enough, and I scrolled through their website, loving the lay-out and their ‘story’. Knowing that I always, always have to do research into the products, I checked the ingredient list. Under the guise of an oil that is natural (there’s that fucking word again), was palm oil. I mean, they aren’t wrong. Palm oil IS natural. But, is it sustainable? Not in the way that it’s being produced right now. Would any environmentalist be caught dead telling the world that palm oil is natural, and therefore is the best option out there? No.
It’s this word natural that we keep coming back to. Just because something grows out in the wild, or as a crop, doesn’t mean it’s good for you, or good for the planet. Natural doesn’t automatically mean sustainable. It doesn’t automatically mean healthy. Red meat is natural, but if you eat too much of it, you’re going to be unhealthy. Broccoli and beans are natural, but if you eat too much of those you’re going to have some pretty horrendous cramping, and perhaps clear a room or two.
Why is it on the consumers to be on the constant look-out for things that shouldn’t be there in the first place? Why are we forced to do so much research just to prove that a company is, in fact, sustainable, that they are actually what they say they are? Greenwashing can come in so many forms that it’s hard to tell them apart from the good companies out there. We’ve decided that a green leaf is synonymous with greener living, when it is really just marketing.
When we start to rely on certain things to fix all of the problems we have going on, we open the door to more problems. Greener products that aren’t always greener, more packaging just to make it seem like there is no plastic hidden, hidden ingredients that companies try to pull off as sustainable. Add in options that are seemingly good for the planet aren’t always and your head starts to spin. Tropical plants may be good for your home, but if they’re over-harvested from their original homes they can cause more damage than the benefits that they produce. Bamboo is a great sustainable option for damn near everything, but if large swaths of land are cleared to make way for bamboo plantations, dispersing humans, animals, and various flora and fauna, then what good are they doing?
It shouldn’t be up to the consumer to make sure that the sustainable item in front of them is actually sustainable, yet it rests on our shoulders. It’s time that companies wake up, and be honest with themselves, and more importantly, the customer.