Sunday, November 2, 2008

Greenwashing Is Alive and Well and Aimed at YOU!

I just received a copy of a trade magazine called "Homeworld Business." Aimed at retailers, it is filled with ads by manufacturers hoping to entice us to carry their goods. I was especially interested in the Andis EcoAir Hairdryer. Here is a photo of the ad:

Curious about what made this plastic, electrical hair dryer "eco" I eagerly read the green circle with Eco Friendly in large type. It became clear that the only thing remotely "eco" about this hairdryer is that it has a setting for 1200 watts. That's the low setting, the one that most people using a hairdryer ignore. Here's a closeup of the "eco-friendly" details (sorry about the poor photography! I'm still learning):

"Eco Friendly Go Green and Go Healthy Use lower setting for gentle styling and to conserve energy. Dual 1875/1200 Watts."

And oddly enough, the exact same hairdryer is listed on Amazon as "The Andis Healthy Choices Tourmaline Ceramic Dryer." (Healthy Choices? Sheesh! These folks need an ethical update.)
Same hairdryer, different name - a few months ago this hairdryer wasn't Eco, it was Healthy. Go figure!

This is how it is described "The Andis Healthy Choices Tourmaline Ceramic Dryer is a dual wattage dryer: 1875 watts and 1200 watts of drying power. Use lower wattage setting for gentle styling and to conserve energy."

Down in the bottom right-hand corner is a little green box that says "Green Friendly Packaging." I suspect this means that the packaging can be recycled. Not good enough. And totally lame.

Do you get the feeling that you're being played?

This ad is only the tip of an enormous iceberg. As consumers we have the responsibility to do our homework, and to demand that the stores we patronize do the same. It is simply not enough for manufacturers to slap an ECO label on any product - they have to show us how it really truly is eco.

Some things to look for:
1. Does the product make sense? (Clearly, this hairdryer is just a hairdryer. And while we're on the subject, do you REALLY need a hairdryer?)
2. Where is it manufactured? I try to support US industry whenever possible. It is tough to find items NOT made in China, but we need to at least try! If store owners know this is what we're looking for, they will work to help make it happen. Like Diane MacEachern of Big Green Purse always says, where and how you spend your money can change the world.
3. What is the item made of? Is it sustainably made? Bio plastics, which are plastics made of everything from soybeans to potato fibers, are really hot right now. But do we want to be using food crops to make plastic? If the product is made of paper, is it made of recycled paper?
4. What is the recycled content? While I really don't want to be bringing more plastic into my life, I make exceptions for items made with recycled plastic. I feel that if there is not a market for post-consumer recyclables, companies will have no incentive to do the research and production. I also feel that it is a sort of penance for all of my plastic bottle purchases in the past. I applaud companies like Ecospun and Trex (it seems a bit selfish to build a deck out of redwood when you could be using recycled plastic and wood) for their use of recycled materials. And there's no reason to be buying paper products without some percentage of post consumer waste (PCW) recycled paper in them!
5. Where are you buying the item? Local independent stores are best - they are the grassroots support of your community. Last choice: the big box stores. Walmart doesn't give a fig about you, nor does it care about it's employees or the environment. All Walmart cares about is the bottom line. Do you really want to help them set the standards for how retailing should be done?
6. Be smart. Do you need this item? Is it a priority for you? Here's Diane MacEachern again: "People will spend eight to 10 dollars a week on bottled water, and say they can't afford organic milk or apples," she said. "With bottled water, you're paying for, basically, trash to capture water that is tap water anyway. With paper towels, people say they can't afford the green option. Well, the green option is a sponge." Could you buy one used? (Check out Craig's List, EBay, Could you make one? I am not asking you to construct, say, a lawnmower. But instead of dashing off to Home Depot for a gas-powered one, consider finding a used reel mower. It's good for you, and good for the environment. Here at Dancing Rabbit we use an electric mower on the area around our house. Because we're totally off-grid, it is a guilt-free choice. Kurt waits until we have a sunny day and our batteries are full. Then, it's yard beautification time!

That's it for today. Time for a walk in the sunny fall air - it's 70 degrees out there!

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