Greenwashers, Beware: Checks and Balances Might Be on Their Way

Posted by Siobhan O'Connor

Let's say you see a product on the shelf that says "natural," or "organic," or "biodegradable" on the label. Would you then believe that the product is, in fact, 100 percent naturally derived, or certified organic, or actually able to dissolve over time into the ground? It's not a trick question. There is obviously a lot of confusion about what actually is or isn't "green" and "eco-friendly" when (as one example) every freaking health food store you go into sells the same fake-natural dish soap. The venue implies a certain greenness. So does the packaging. And so do the label claims. But guess what? The stuff is almost as toxic as the soap you get at the dollar store.When it comes to labeling laws, the short version is that they're pretty lax and hard to enforce. To be fair, the FTC has some good ones on the books, and recently pledged to crack down on claims of biodegradability, but there's a lot of crap out there and only one FTC; it's a tall order to clean up the business once its product hits the shelves. The more interesting idea, in my opinion, would be to crack down on the manufacturing itself. Instead of fining companies that falsely claim to be environmentally friendly, how about you just stop companies from making toxic stuff instead?Crazy talk? Kind of. A gentler idea-and a much better one-is currently being proposed by proponents of green chemistry and engineering who, frustrated at the lack of transparency and false claims, think it's best to nip the problem in the bud. As it stands, most green claims are issued by the company making the product. Many companies even have their own little in-house "certification" labels to make the greenness look more official. It's a load of BS, but the ACS Green Chemistry Institute knows just to do about it:"We want to build a comprehensive, multiattribute, consensus-based standard with third-party verification that a company can certify against to say its product is green or that its manufacturing process or facility is green," said Robert Peoples, director of the Green Chemistry Institute.From the ACS article: "The standard will include guidelines on process efficiency, including raw materials, water, solvent, and energy use; air emissions and solid-waste generation; and recyclability, Peoples noted. One outcome could be a green product label, akin to a food nutrition label or appliance energy guide, that would make it simple for consumers-either businesses or individuals-to judge for themselves the greenness of chemical products and the processes used to make them."These standards could have an enormous impact on the field and, as a result, on the stuff we buy, on our health, and on the planet.Image via