“Eco-friendly” products: True Green or Simply Greenwashing?

Green LiquidGreenwashing is rampant with the pitch of “eco-friendly” products. Here’s a deep dive on two leading companies.

The ads brag: Eco-friendly! A truly organic experience! Clean Coal! But how much can we trust advertising? It is often tricky to determine whether a company is actually taking strides to reduce its environmental impact or whether it is simply greenwashing.

Let’s take a look at a few green advertisements:

Poland Spring is selling “eco-friendly” water bottles. On its website, Poland Spring boasts that these water bottles have 30% less plastic than other, comparably sized bottles. This is indeed a good move to reduce its carbon footprint since plastic production results in high carbon dioxide emissions.  Also, the label is 30% smaller than the previous one, and thus requires less paper and less deforestation – this too is a sound carbon reduction move.

Poland Spring’s reduced-plastic water bottles are commendable… Now let’s dig deeper to determine whether the company is consistently acting in an environmentally conscious way. Do their environmental measures extend beyond those advertised prominently on each Poland Spring bottle?

As it turns out, it does. For instance, in 2007, Poland Spring began running all of its trucks on biodiesel. In addition, this company’s newest bottling plant, built in Kingfield, Maine, in 2008, received a LEED Gold building certification and the plant recycles more than 90% of its waste stream. This is pretty darn impressive stuff. But while Poland Spring doesn’t practice greenwashing, it is still not environmentally friendly to rely on plastic water bottles! Poland Spring’s eco-friendly bottle still contains 70% of the plastic that other ½ liter bottles contain. Consider that for each pound of PET plastic that is produced, 7.5 pounds of carbon dioxide are produced.

Poland Spring water bottles still have an enormous carbon footprint. Additionally, Poland Spring trucks use a diesel mixture with only 5% biodiesel, even though it is possible to run trucks 100% on biodiesel. And although it is fantastic that the bottling plant in Kingfield received a LEED Gold status, Poland Spring’s other bottling plants do not all have this environmental certification. Carry a reusable water bottle whenever possible and check out Green Blizzard’s article on water bottles.

Southern Company, a huge United States utility company, has been releasing a series of environmental advertisements. In one such ad,  a cartoon man is wowed by a piece of green coal in his hand. Underneath the cartoon, Southern Company claims that it’s “working toward building the world’s first zero-emissions, coal-fired generating plant”. According to Greenpeace, Southern Company is referring to a process by which carbon dioxide is captured from coal-fired plants and buried underground. However, this practice is not environmentally sound. Furthermore, it is misleading to say that the plant will not produce emissions by this process. Carbon dioxide will be produced; it will simply be buried underground upon production.

Alas, the hard lesson here is to be more skeptical of green claims. Do not make purchasing decisions based on “eco-friendly” labels. Instead, do some quick research on companies you patronize regularly. For some really ridiculous examples of greenwashing, check out the humorous site about greenwashing

kennyAnd of course, whenever possible, buy from eco-friendly companies. As a consumer, you hold the power. Even the biggest, baddest companies must listen to their customers.


About the author

Kenny Frankel

As graduate of the University of Maryland, Kenny has a major in Environmental Politics and Policy, so he's undoubtedly a guy well versed in environmental issues. Now, post college he is a practitioner of sustainable living and employed by solar installation company. We all will have a deeper green perspective after reading his articles because he brings a big picture insight to our everyday purchase decisions and even recycling.  As an early staff writer for Green Blizzard, Kenny covers environmental policy, big-agricultures impact on the environment, solar energy, recycling, and products made from recycled materials.