If you've got eyes, you've probably noticed that nearly everything on shelves now claims to be a deeper shade of green.
Eco claims are almost as prevalent as those annoying trans-fat free ads trying to fool us into thinking frozen deep fried potatoes are actually good for us. I knew we had a problem when I called Health Canada three, four years ago and asked them how they regulate the term non-toxic and they said, "Regulate? Us? Oh no, 'non-toxic' is an industry devised marketing term."
Still it didn't make it any less depressing to hear the results of a survey of 1000 so-called eco-friendly products in six big box stores that found a whopping 99 per cent are guilty of some sort of greenwashing sin. Few were fat out lying but most were fudging things. Where the hell are all these third party symbols coming from anyway? They're full of vague green language without telling you what they actually mean. Just a few days ago I read that Estee Lauder (owner of Aveda) and L'Oreal (owner of Body Shop) have devised their own standard so their products can be labeled as straight up "organic" even if they don't meet the USDA requirements for organic beauty products. Talk about making your own laws. (The US government only allows products to be labeled organic if 95% of their ingredients are organic, but the new OASIS label will let products that are 85% organic squeak in).
Alas, there is a light at the end of the greenwashed tunnel. The Competition Bureau says there's a new sheriff in town. The revitalized agency is poised to pounce on companies that make false or misleading green claims. It's working with the Canadian Standards Association to set up rock hard definitions for terms like "recyclable", "compostable," "non-toxic." And best of all, its already started warning companies that they're going to have to, gasp, prove it. With science. Imagine that.
Industry players like Proctor and Gamble say they're supportive of evening the playing field, but they're also bucking claim verification requirements. They don't want to have to cough up proof to anyone that calls their consumer hotline. They want to be able to put "compostable" labels on diapers even though the vast majority of municipalities that green bin organics don't accept any plastic content at all (effectively barring diapers from their industrial composters).
I'm a little more sympathetic to industry complaints when it comes to the Competition Bureau's crackdown on the use of the suffix "-free" (as in "chemical-free" or "paraben-free"). The Bureau says only products that once contained carcinogenic parabens should be allowed to say "Paraben-free" on their labels. But come on, that would give them an advertising head's up in the marketplace where people are looking for quick cues when shopping. Shouldn't the peeps that put out paraben-free shampoos all along get to alert consumers too?
It's all still in the comment stage at this point so hopefully that'll be ironed out and fingers crossed we'll see a lot more aggressive action on this front when it is. Kind of like when the competition bureau surprised everyone by swooping down on Lululemon last fall, slamming the yoga gear pushers for claiming their VitaSea fabric would keep skin smooth and firm and more (this was just after the New York Times ousted VitaSea for not containing any seaweed at all). Lululemon dropped all claims and the world moved on.
The bureau promises to keep a watchful eye on other eco products making grand claims like soy shirts (which manufacturers say release amino acids to your skin) or bamboo underwear (which promises anti-bacterial, anti-UV protection). But here's a very pertinent head's up: the Bureau admits it's only going to boost enforcement efforts if we all start dialing their number and complaining every time we see dodgy green claims on shelves. So get dialing, people.
HOW TO FILE A COMPLAINT
Call: 1 800 348-5358
Write: Competition Bureau, 50 Victoria Street, Gatineau, Quebec, K1A 0C9