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Greenwashing: Not All Things Green are Gold

Greenwashing: Not All Things Green are Gold

Going green sells. Manufacturers and growers all over the country are realizing this fact and are jumping on the bandwagon. While a number of companies are actually greening-up their acts, an unfortunate majority are simply changing their advertising and making false green claims to improve sales. Greenwashing is a form of false advertising used to mislead consumers regarding the environmental benefits of a company's products or services.

How to Identify Greenwashing

Terrachoice and EcoLogo have combined their green and marketing knowledge to identify six common forms of greenwashing.

  1. Hidden Trade-offs
  2. No Proof
  3. Vagueness
  4. Irrelevance
  5. Fibbing
  6. Lesser of Two Evils

Beyond green equipment, bio-plastics, green cleaners and bleach-free paper are the products making the biggest splash in the food service sector. As with any new green product, the majority are actually greenwashed. But there are some easy methods of uncovering whether or not the product is green.

What to Look for When Purchasing Bio-Plastics

Words like "Completely Biodegradable" and "100% Compostable" are used often when referring to new bio-plastics. They sound eco-friendly, but without proof, there is no way of knowing whether the claims are true.

  • BPI Certification. The Biodegradable Products Institute awards certification to any products that have been tested in an approved facility and are compliant with ASTM standards D6400 and D6868. If you see this logo on a product, this is definitely a good purchase.
  • ASTM Standards. The American Society for Testing and Materials standards D6400 and D6868 set specific conditions for bio-based products. They have to biodegrade a certain amount within 180 days or less, leaving behind no toxic materials. If a product is labeled as compliant with one of these two ASTM standards, it is probably a good purchase.
  • Time on Biodegredation. This specification goes back to the ASTM standards just mentioned. If the manufacturer advertises a product as biodegrading in x amount of days, then you can be confident in buying the product. Most bio-plastics will only meet the ASTM qualification on biodegrading under commercial composting conditions.
What to Look for When Purchasing Green Cleaners

Green labels are everywhere on cleaners. A closer look at the labels will help uncover whether the product inside is actually green, or just the same old chemical in a green wrapper.

  • EcoLogo Certification. Launched in 1988, EcoLogo is the oldest and most trusted green certification program in North America. Certified products span over 120 different categories, including green cleaners.
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  • Green Seal Certification. Products bearing the Green Seal have been third-party tested in accordance with international standards for eco-preferred products. Several commercial cleaners are on the list of Green Seal certified goods. 
  • Plant-Based Ingredients. Oftentimes the supposed green cleaners have the same harmful chemicals as conventional cleaners, with maybe a single citrus additive to make it smell green. If the ingredients do not contain mostly plant based extracts, it is likely not as green as the advertising suggests.
What to Look for When Purchasing Paper Products

Beyond buying paper containing 100% recycled content, the only other certification you need to look for when seeking eco-friendly paper is the TCF seal. One of the hardest certifications to achieve, the Totally Chlorine Free seal on paper products means that no chlorine or harmful chemical compounds were used during the entire paper-making process.

Many paper products tout being whitened using a chlorine free bleaching process. But without the TCF seal, you can be certain that the manufacturer is using chlorine based or harmful chemicals elsewhere when making paper.

Avoid Purchasing Greenwashed Products

Beyond bio-plastics, green cleaners and chlorine-free paper, there are many more product categories that are being greenwashed. When making purchasing decisions there are a few things to look for and do to assure a product is truly green.

  • Look for certifications. The best green seals and certifications for commercial kitchens are those coming from non-profit or government organizations that have tested a product's sustainability. 
  • Do your research. As the name suggests, greenwashing is just a way to hide a product's non-green practices. Simply researching a product or the manufacturer will uncover a product's greenness.
  • Look at the product's entire life cycle. The majority of greenwashed products tout one eco-friendly feature while ignoring the harmful aspects of the rest of the production cycle.
A Word on Advertising

When advertising your restaurant's green practices, honesty is always the best policy. Though you may not be perfectly green, showing that you are taking steps to and actively researching new methods to lessen your environmental impact will have dramatic affects on your customer loyalty and image in the community.