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‘Our products are eco-friendly and biodegradable’ – you’d have read this line on various websites and marketing materials. Marketing products as eco-friendly and biodegradable is the new cool and caters to the target audience’s new found conscience for the environment. These tactics are called greenwashing, a strategy where a company markets itself as environmentally conscious but makes little to no effort to actually make their products eco-friendly or reduce their carbon footprint.
These marketing strategies are aimed at misleading consumers who prefer to buy goods and services from eco-friendly organizations. One of the biggest issues with green marketing for fast moving consumer products is that terms like eco-friendly, biodegradable, sustainable, compostable, organic are very loosely used. They are also loosely understood and interpreted and work best for the company creating these products, explains ecologist Shradha Shreejay.
For example, in the feminine hygiene products sector menstrual pads and products are marketed as biodegradable but they don’t tell you that to degrade, the pads need to be put under very specific conditions and composted in industrial composters. A common household or municipality does not have the infrastructure to compost such pads. Hence, it gives consumers a false sense of hope that they are doing something for the environment, when the pads are just going to the landfill. The consumers are also paying more for these pads and this can be considered a form of duping.
“It is the producers’ responsibility to give correct information and the government must also introduce regulations making it mandatory for companies to give more information about the products. You cannot cheat the consumers,” adds Mayuri Bhattarcharjee, climate reality leader.
A need for consumer awareness
The consumers have a right to know and ask, but they must also be aware of what actually eco-friendly or being sustainable means. Rajasi Kulkarni, menstrual health activist, adds that not disclosing the ingredients or content of a product is a form of greenwashing. Most of the time consumers are not aware of what their ‘eco-friendly’ products are made of and buy by just seeing the green label. It is important for us to ask questions of the manufacturers, i.e. how was it created, how to take care of it, how to dispose of it, how much time will it take to compost or biodegrade among others.
Consumers can also verify products before buying, they can look at third-party certifications or source more locally as there is more easy access to product information and more likely there would be less preservatives, less fuel that might have gone into transportation and less storage would be required, hence an optimal usage of resources. “When one shops local, it goes without saying that one is boosting the local economy and supporting small businesses, “ says Sonal Jain founder of Sustainable Living & Learning Community, Chennai and co-founder of Boondh.co.