When natural foods and green products were first created, a select niche market of consumers bought them. Due to increased public awareness and the resulting rise of demand for these products, more companies are choosing to create organic foods or adapt some of their products to make them more natural. Some businesses are also trying to tap into that consumer market without actually making the changes in their products. In fact, the words “green”, “natural” and “organic” are being used by many companies as a false advertising campaign. As a consumer, it is important to research the products you buy and the companies you support to make sure you’re truly getting what you pay for.
Food companies can put an organic label on foods that only contain some organic components. If you are looking for a 100% organic product, make sure to check for the percentage of organic ingredients which will be listed on the package. Also, check for the USDA National Organic Program label, which ensures that the food is organic according to federal standards.
The word “natural” is thrown around the most in the food industry. Almost every generic grocery store has its own natural foods section offering foods that may still contain ingredients you consider unnatural. Check out the Resource Box to view the local City Pages weekly newspaper feature from August 2007. The article questioned whether the organic products Target sells under their Archer Farms label are truly “organic” or if it’s just slick marketing to take advantage of the growing interest in organic products.
Some companies are also claiming to be green as an advertising campaign. Certain “recycled” products, for example, only contain a small percentage of post consumer recycled material. It’s also important to look “behind” the label for who actually owns a brand that is advertised as “organic”. For example, Horizon Organic is owned by Dean Foods, the nation’s largest milk bottler. Some organizations have expressed concerns over whether Horizon/Dean Foods has misrepresented their operations to consumers.
When researching a company, here are some questions to ask yourself. Remember, the concerns you have about products are unique according to your values. Set a standard that encompasses your ethical viewpoint and purchase according to it.
- Are environmental issues a large part of the company’s core values or mission statement?
- Does their website have a link or information that includes green or sustainable information?
- If they offer a product, is it truly as environmentally friendly as they may claim? (100% post-consumer recycled, chlorine free, fair trade certified, organically certified, made with an environmentally friendly process, made from renewable materials, is it a long-lasting quality product)
- Are there toxic ingredients in the product or used to create the product?
- Is the product long lasting, guaranteed or made to be recycled?
- Do they offer safe and fair paid employment?
- Do they support the community and invest in environmental organizations?
Lastly, employees at food co-ops, natural food or product stores can be a great resource. They can usually direct you toward good companies, products and foods that are worth supporting. You can also take advantage of independent organizations that rate and evaluate different products. Consumer Reports has developed a web site called GreenerChoices.org where you can read product ratings and use their search tools to identify foods or products you may wish to avoid. See the Resource Boxes for web links.
Greenwash: The Reality Behind Corporate Environmentalism, Jed Greer and Kenny Bruno, Apex Press, 1997.
Corporate Planet: Ecology and Politics in Age of Globalization, Joshua Karliner, Sierra Club Books, 1997.
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