You’re certainly not dumb, but some manufacturers would like to think (or hope) so. With Earth Day today, many brands will be displaying their green-leafed logos and touting their earth friendly accolades. But don’t assume these environmental and health claims are true. In many cases, manufacturers can make claims that are neither independently verified nor regulated.
Here’s a selection of some of the most common terms you’ll find on healthy, green and green-washed products alike.
The term suggests that the product is not dangerous to our health or planet. But the claim is often used on products that are not independently verified. So it’s just the manufacturer making the claim on the label. Unless there is a third-party certification to stand behind and define the term, it’s not a claim you can trust.
2. Natural (or All Natural)
If you see these terms on labels, keep reading. The term is not defined or regulated, so anyone can use it. Also keep in mind that there are plenty of “natural” substances like arsenic that are not necessarily safe or good for you.
3. Green, Environmentally-Friendly, Eco-Friendly and/or Eco-Conscious
All four claims are meaningless unless they share the label with some proof. Look for reputable third party certifications such as Green Seal or USDA Organic. There should also be a full and complete ingredients list. Evaluate the packaging. Is it made from recycled material and recyclable? For a product to make these claims, it should walk the walk, not just talk the talk.
This term suggests that the item and its packaging will decompose in a short period of time. However, the term is not regulated enough to make it meaningful. Since practically everything will biodegrade given enough time and/or a nice sunny field or compost heap, the claim can easily be made without necessarily lying.
This claim is always false because there is nothing on the planet that is actually free of chemicals. Water, air, minerals are all made up of chemical components. If you see this claim on a label, don’t buy it, because the product is clearly exaggerating its claims to lure you in, and may contain other ingredients that the label's not being totally truthful about.
A general claim that implies a product will be less likely to cause allergic reactions. Poodles and Labradoodles aside, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) admits there are no federal standards or definitions that govern the use of the term. With no regulation, it’s hardly a good indicator of whether the product will be safe.
The United Nations defines the term as follows: “To meet the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”
Sustainable is often used to describe farming or forest management practices that do not harm the environment. Like most of these terms, it used too often and taken too lightly to be truly meaningful on a label. It’s better to look for certifications to back it up. For example, wood that has been certified by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) comes from forests that are well managed for the good of the environment and the local people.
This term does not mean that the production of the product did not create carbon, but that the company “offset” the carbon it did produce by investing in renewable energy. This is a good step, but keep the big picture in view. Carbon neutral bottled water still has all the environmental and health concerns of regular old bottled water. Carbon offset programs are yet unregulated and not all are created equally.
Now that you’re empowered with an arsenal of knowledge, you can shop safely and wisely for you and your family. Remember, although many companies go above and beyond to offer exceptional ingredients, some are ultimately taking advantage of consumers. They’ll spend time and money claiming to be healthy through advertising and marketing without actually backing up their claims with equivalent efforts. In today’s marketplace, you can’t judge a product merely by its packaging.