Smile Politely

You got Green on your face. You big disgrace.

GreenwashingMy last article touched on the annoyance of the green movement. I’ve been questioning myself on what exactly I am annoyed about, and I think it boils down to greenwashing. I’m sick of seeing the color green. I’m sick of falling leaves and images of hands holding a ball of dirt with a plant growing out of it. Yet, I am also inspired and encouraged by the American public’s power to push and influence business practices.

Greenwashing is “the practice of companies disingenuously spinning their products and policies as environmentally friendly.” It’s a common practice in advertising when the primary goal is to sell a product. Do we think Budweiser’s “Drive responsibly” ads mean they want us to drink less? No, most of us get it.


Greenwashing is about money. By making a product or service appear to be environmentally friendly, even if it is not, consumers are drawn to it. We like commercials that mention the earth, ads showing bright flowers, or burlap bags; and we especially like things to be called “clean.”



So how can we know if a company is greenwashing or legitimate? I turned to a few local experts for the skinny on products and local shopping trends.

Common GroundJacqueline Hannah, General Manager of Common Ground Food Co-Op, mentioned the triple bottom line: the environment, community building, and fiscal sustainability. All of this sounds wonderful, but also involves a lot of research for the average consumer. Fortunately, we have local businesses doing the work for us.

Hannah says, “Common Ground is about building connections between people and food, between customers and farmers. It’s terrific that people from all walks of life find Common Ground so welcoming; we work hard to make it that way. Good, nutritious food that helps sustain our local farmers is for everyone.”

B-LimeSpeaking of people coming together, Wendi Lindsay, owner of B. Lime, A Green Store, says, “I really believe that this movement was not going to take hold until it caught mainstream. The more people you have engaged, the better. You need the greater population to get involved before real change is made when it comes to policy and big issues . . . and those are the real changes we need more than anything.”


So maybe those hands of dirt aren’t such a bad thing? Especially if they are moving society in the right direction, or at least a better direction than we had been before the green movement went mainstream.

I especially liked Lindsay’s response to last week’s article and quote from Joe Futrelle. Futrelle, a member of our local chapter of the Green Party, said: “It’s really important that we get outside the framing of environmentalism as an issue of individual consumer choice . . . we need a mass movement, not a subculture, to bring about the changes we need.” Lindsay responded: “I can see what he’s saying but we believe [we] have to start with the small things and it’s those small things that indeed bring on the mass movement . . . one small change creates a wave.”

To me, this refers to the snow-ball effect that will someday lead to legislation. We can’t abandon green products because some companies are trying to bank off of the movement. We have to keep moving forward, better educated and more capable of environmentally friendly consumer choices.

Strawberry FieldsEmily Reedy, Retail Director of Strawberry Fields, says, “It is difficult to tell the difference between the green products on the market, as many buzz words are used to market them that are not regulated in any way. The first thing to look at is the ingredients list. Look at it side-by-side with a conventional item. Sometimes you can tell right away that there is no difference.” Reedy recommends checking the Organic Pages.


Greenwashing is consumer driven. It’s up to us to know which products to avoid. Once businesses learn that the consumer no longer wants “fake” green products, they’ll eventually learn what we do want: environmentally responsible businesses that sell and offer environmentally responsible products and services. In the meantime, we at least have some very well-educated and well-intentioned local businesses to rely on.


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