Monday, March 15th, 2010
What does “eco-friendly” really mean? Sure, I can derive from the word’s components that it refers to being ecologically responsive, environmentally responsible and good for the Earth. But what exactly is that? How do you make a determination in the face of relentless commercial marketing? Advertising a product is a multi-million dollar business. As consumers, we have been trained well by ad execs and marketing gurus to salivate every time someone rings a bell or, not unlike Pavlov’s dog, purchase products described with trendy words like “organic,” “natural” or even ”new and improved.”
Recently I was told by a customer service representative that his company was switching packaging in order to be more “eco-friendly.” I wondered what that really means and contemplated all the different ways a package might become more “eco-friendly.” Different material? Less material? Made from recycled content or ability to be recycled? Material produced on site or shipped from a closer location? Less energy used? Biodegradability? Carbon neutrality? There are many, many factors that could be analyzed.
While advertisers attempt to drive consumers toward an endless parade of products, at least here in the United States, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is very specific about the ways in which those products can be described as green or “eco-friendlyl.” The FTC’s Guides for the Use of Environmental Marketing Claims (or “The Green Guides”) exist to offer a host of examples of how to label products correctly and what constitutes incorrect labels. Just saying a product is sustainable, biodegradable or carbon neutral with the hopes of influencing purchases is not good enough, and the FTC holds companies to a higher standard. Consumers need to be educated on the facts as well.
I spend a lot of my time working with companies who are making advancements creating products that do have less of an impact on our environment. These companies feel a sense of responsibility and duty when it comes to preserving the world we live in. I would hope that we, as consumers, would look beyond the slick catch phrase added to our goods and ask for sound scientific proof to back these phrases up. The next time I am shopping for goods, I will be doing so with an eye out for the truth behind the marketing.