An Anti-Greenwashing Dictionary for Consumers
Consumers want to buy products that are good for the environment, which is great, except that some companies are using marketing tactics to exploit this demand. People are often rushed when they shop, so they make a quick comparisons of products and a snap decision on what is best for their budget, their family, and the environment. Marketers know this and design big green labels that say “All Natural” in huge font. Even if an item is packaged in green with a leafy logo, doesn't necessarily mean it is the best option for the environment. That is why it is important to be aware of the true definition of different “environmental” terms that may either be used to scam you into purchasing a not-so-green product or to help you identify the truly green options. Below are some of the most common words used in green marketing.
All Natural - There is no industry-wide definition of “all natural” which means companies may use the term differently. The FDA prohibits using misleading language on labels which should prevent companies from misusing the words “all natural”, however, the FDA does not provide specific regulations on the term so its use is still rather hazy.
Biodegradable - A product made of natural materials that will eventually decompose back into the earth with the help of microorganisms.
Compostable - A material that breaks down to become dirt that contains no toxins and can support plant life.
Eco-Friendly - interchangeable with the term “green”. Referring to something environmentally preferable. On its own, this term provides no specific criteria.
Fair Trade - a certification code that verifies that farmers receive a fair price for their
products. Through Fair Trade programs, farmers receive credit and are given necessary assistance in order to eventually become a self-sufficient business.
GMOs - Genetically Modified Organisms, Organisms from bacteria, plants or animals which have been genetically changed in a laboratory through DNA technology.
Green - Vague descriptive term referring to anything environmentally friendly.
Organic - Grown without conventional pesticides, artificial fertilizers or sewage and processed without food additives. Food products from animals have not been subjected to routine antibiotics or growth hormones. A USDA Organic certified label means that the product’s claims of being organic were verified by a third party.
Post Consumer Recycled - A product or material that was sold or used by consumers and then reused or made into another consumer product.
Recycled - Can mean either post consumer recycled o pre-consumer recycled. A pre-consumer recycled item is a product or material which has been recycled or reused before it has become a consumer product. For example, an item made from factory scraps or waste materials that have not yet been used or sold to the general population.