In shopping for eco-friendly products, in all probability you have fallen for ‘greenwashing’. Here we break down what greenwashing is, which products and materials are often ‘greenwashed’, and how you can identify and avoid them.
What is greenwashing?
“Greenwashing is when a company makes environmental claims in order to improve their brand, but if you scratch beneath the surface, these aren’t necessarily true,” says Tim Hunt, co-editor at Ethical Consumer, a not-for-profit organisation that publishes information on the ethical behaviour of companies.
There are many brands and products that are making environmental claims that they simply can’t back up.
Some of the leading eco-friendly products in today’s market, despite being better for the environment than plastic, still leave a huge carbon footprint and are not as “eco” as they are made out to be.
There are brands on the market claiming to be eco-friendly that use materials such as silicone, bamboo and hybrid bamboo/melamine materials. But are these plastic alternatives as good as they seem? Well, the short of it is, no.
Is bamboo really sustainable?
Bamboo grows quickly and is biodegradable, however there are problems with how it can be grown and harvested.
Some farmers are being incentivised to start more plantations, meaning natural ecosystems are being disrupted and habitats are being destroyed, which, in turn, drives indigenous species away. But that’s not all; the raw materials or products are being shipped thousands of miles overseas and, eco or not, the distance a product has to travel greatly influences its carbon footprint.
Some other market-leading brands cut costs by making bamboo moulded dish-ware from a bamboo/melamine hybrid. This short-term cost cutting can have a long-term cost on their customers’ health: melamine can be very damaging to both brain and reproductive functions.
Is silicone eco-friendly?
Silicone, the new kid on the block, is another material which isn’t as great as you may think.
It is a man-made polymer created from silicon, oxygen, and other elements (usually carbon and hydrogen). To turn into silicone, the silicon must be extracted and processed. So, whilst silicon comes from a plentiful resource like sand, the hydrocarbons in silicone come from non-renewable resources like oil and natural gas. This makes silicone a hybrid material, so it’s better than plastic in terms of resource extraction, but still not as naturally renewable. It is also not biodegradable and does not decompose.
Although it can be recycled multiple times, silicone usually has to be sent to a specialised recycling company. It is because of this that many people will simply throw away silicone at the end of its life, where it will stay without breaking down for centuries (alongside plastic).
How to avoid greenwashing: product eco-credentials
It is important to consider the eco-credentials and provenance of the product.
What exactly are the eco-credentials of your eco-friendly product? Have you ever considered where exactly the eco-friendly products that you use come from and how they are transported to the UK before being sold?
When evaluating a product’s eco-credentials, consider these criteria;
- Manufactured in a sustainable and ethical fashion
- Free of toxic materials or ozone-depleting substances
- Able to be recycled and/or is produced from recycled materials
- Made from renewable materials
- What is the packaging made from and is it excessive?
- How many carbon footprint miles have gone into the manufacture and supply of the product?
What about wooden products?
We need to look at the earth’s most natural of resources. For The Wood Life Project, this is wood; ethically and sustainably sourced, native wood. No greenwashing in sight.
Wood is a great eco-friendly alternative. It even helps to tackle climate change. It does this by removing CO2 from the atmosphere as well as reducing carbon emissions. Wooden products store the carbon that the growing trees have removed from the air and one cubic metre of new wood removes just less than a tonne of CO2 in the atmosphere.
A report commissioned by the environmental organisation Planet Ark, has found that there are observable physiologically positive responses to being exposed to wood — similar health benefits to those created by spending time in nature. In looking more closely at the impact wood has on health, some of the report findings include:
- Improved emotional state and self-expression
- Improved indoor air quality due to its hypoallergenic characteristics
- Feelings of warmth and comfort
- Lower blood pressure, heart rate and stress level
The Wood Life Project's Eco-credentials
We believe that by creating our products from wood, we are creating the next step towards an ever more sustainable lifestyle. We believe in producing the highest quality, British-made products that don’t leave a carbon footprint.
✓ Manufactured in a sustainable and ethical fashion
✓ Free of toxic materials or ozone-depleting substances
✓ Able to be recycled and/or is produced from recycled materials
✓ Made from renewable materials
✓ 100% Biodegradable
What is the packaging made from and is it excessive?
Our packaging is made from recycled paper and is 100% recyclable. The packaging that The Wood Life Project uses comes from one of only ten printers in the UK who are recognised as a carbon balanced printer by The World Land Trust (Sir David Attenborough is a Patron), and are also members of the Carbon Capture programme administered by The Woodland Trust.
We are able to track the amount of carbon our packaging has offset as well as the amount of land which the World Land Trust has protected as a result.
So far this year, The Wood Life Project has balanced, through World Land Trust, the equivalent of 144kg of carbon dioxide. This support will enable World Land Trust to protect 101m2 of critically threatened tropical forest.
How many carbon footprint miles have gone into the manufacture and supply of the product?
We have chosen to source and craft all our products in the UK to avoid needlessly transporting materials around the world, minimising the environmental impact of our manufacturing process. As mentioned above we participate in carbon capture offset programmes from The Woodland Trust and The World Land Trust, and are continually working to improve the tracking and offsetting of our carbon footprint.