Supermarket aisles are filled with 'eco-friendly' products.
You don't need to look far to find companies who present a responsible public image to cash in on the growing market of consumers who genuinely care about environmental issues, animal welfare and ethical processes.
Sometimes it's hard to decipher the good from the bad. Are those 'cage-free' or 'barn laid' eggs the equivalent of 'free-range'? Are those 'ethical choice' bananas the equivalent of 'Fair Trade'?
In Colmar Brunton's 'Better Business' report this year, they found that although 88% of consumers these days are making sustainable choices in their shopping, only 15% feel that they are well informed on issues relating to sustainability and only one in three who responded said that they feel businesses are giving them enough information about their social and environmental practices.
I am not surprised by these statistics. There is so much 'greenwash' out there that mislead people on a daily basis, often with no independent certification on what is actually good (or better) for the environment than others. This makes it very hard for the everyday shopper to distinguish between those that actually do minimise their environmental impact and the hordes of great pretenders.
Dole bananas have recently applied for a trademark on their sticker which claims that their product is an 'ethical choice' - not surprisingly, it is coloured green. They claim that this is simply to promote their sustainability practices in places like the Philippines, but there is no one (except Dole themselves) that verifies this, which has lead to complaints by Fair Trade with the Commerce Commission.
I understand the concerns about a self-regulating producer creating their own standards - how do we know that this is a legitimate claim when we walk the supermarket aisles?
How do we know that the 'ethical choice' bananas are going to actually achieve an ethical outcome for growers in developing countries?
All Good Bananas, on the other hand, have been through the rigmarole to gain Fair Trade certification - an international, independent scheme that confirms the workers are getting a fair deal in return for their toils on the plantations.
SPCA approved eggs have been through an independent check to confirm that your omelette has come from happy hens, but what about the brands that claim their eggs are free range but show no approval?
A major problem is that most independent certification schemes cost big money. This is one of the reasons why organic food, for example, is more expensive.
I buy organic vegetables. They don't say they are organic, but I know the grower and I know they are in fact organic. He just doesn't want to pay the often-prohibitive cost of becoming an accredited supplier when he only sells to local markets. Fair enough too. Why should he, when all of his clients know his produce is spray free and he has built up that level of trust.
Conscious Consumers is one organisation that are attempting to build bridges over some of the barriers that consumers face. They are working on certification for the hospitality industry and their supply chains, in an effort to make it easy for the growing number of consumers that care about spending their hard-earned cash on businesses with social and environmental credentials.
At the end of the day, green marketing is on the rise and it is up to the individual shopper to decide who they trust and how this will be proved.
There is so much 'greenwash' out there, that we need to be careful who we give our trust to. So who out there knows an example of 'greenwashing' in New Zealand today? Please post it in a comment, or email it to me - perhaps it is time for some naming and shaming...