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Green Marketing Deception: Why Some Green Products Might Not Be So Green

by Alexander Brebner|28 April, 2021|Blog / Community / 

Defining corporate greenwashing with Executive Director and Made Safe founder Amy Ziff, and Ronie Schmelz, Counsel

Made Safe was founded by Amy Ziff, a journalist and mother who was on a mission to solve her youngest children’s severe allergies to things even sent home with her from the hospital by her doctors. Joining her is Ronie Schmelz, an attorney specializing in regulatory compliance and helping companies to stay out of trouble whenever they communicate with consumers.

A self-proclaimed “ecoista,” Amy shopped at places like Whole Foods and thought she was doing right by her family and her children to buy them healthy, clean, often expensive products. “It turns out that there really is so little regulation and so little definition that you can think you’re buying something good, and it can be filled with nasty chemicals.” Amy’s journey with her own children led her to this market realization that there are over 84,000+ chemicals in use today, with roughly 700 untested chemicals being added every year.

GETTING AHEAD OF CORPORATE GREENWASHING MARKETING

Amy wanted to make a change and inform people, so she strove to create a highly defined set of principles that outlines what it means to make a product from safe ingredients that won’t harm humans or the wider ecosystem. As Ronie notes, “there is this vacuum that has been created on the regulator front and there’s no definition by the government of ‘clean.’ People like Amy have stepped into the void to help educate consumers” and bridge the knowledge gap for them to make better-informed choices while shopping.

“Most of the chemicals that are widely used today were never put through any kind of review.” Made Safe vets these chemicals for human health first then eco-health, including testing ingredients against: soil, air, water, flora, and fauna. Made Safe has a ‘banned list’ of nearly 6,500 chemicals, which is nearly 4x the size of that of Europe, and 50x of the United States. 

Amy notes, “we prioritize people” using a precautionary approach. How? Made Safe test chemicals before they are put into products and proven innocent, and work to prevent bad ones from ever being used, rather than a chemical being deemed unfit and having to be pulled from the shelves or undergo a class action lawsuit.

WHAT IS GREEN MARKETING?

So what is greenwashing and green marketing? Amy first encourages people to ask, “what is sustainability?” “It’s not okay to use ingredients that are taking so much from the earth and causing harm that way… these words are so loaded and can mean virtually anything. It’s the wild west.” This is why Made Safe has decided to remain a third party and not align to any brand. This is important because big brands often seek to be defined by loose terms like “green” and “clean” in order to attract consumers, and can simply pay for a certification by scientists that they have paid. Made Safe has chosen to grow organically - pun intended. They aren’t bought. “We need consumers to understand this complexity, and we need more terminology that is more understood across these entities.” For example: the birth of “clean” actually came from lawsuits surrounding brands falsely using the term “green.” For this reason, it’s important to truly understand what the “clean” in clean beauty, food, or otherwise means.

GREEN PRODUCT CERTIFICATIONS & SEALS: NOT ALL CREATED EQUAL

Made Safe works with a couple hundred brands and has certified thousands of products. In order to be certified by Made Safe, products have to undergo an extremely rigorous testing period, including avoiding over 6,500 known harmful ingredients that make up our “banned list,” making sure no ingredients were named dangerous by global scientific sources, ensuring they are not harmful to animals or the environment…

So how do brands make a decision to get certified by whom? Amy says “there is a time and place for all kinds of certifications, and the others are offering brands a place to start. You can’t just out of the gate become Made Safe certified because you ‘got lucky,’ it’s too hard. You might start with a more permissive eco-seal that works for your brand where you are… We stand on the shoulders of many [seals] who came before us and would not be here without the work they have done for years.” She encourages brands and consumers to do their homework and make a plan, emphasizing “progress over protection.”

“Seals are so helpful because instead of self-defining, [brands] are using this third party to have clarity.” Ronie notes, we want the industry to make their own definitions, as she often sees lawsuits in which companies make their own definitions and therefore are able to bend the rules.

Made Safe does not certify packaging, and recognizes that ingredients are just one leg of the stool. Instead, they partner with NY State Pollution Prevention Institute to help guide brands on looking at their overall product and packaging sustainability and [provide best practices. Zero-waste is another grey term. Do you have a collection process to collect the packaging back? Is your manufacturing process zero-waste?

Plastic leaching can be harmful, which is why Amy promotes virgin plastic over recycled plastic. This is not-popular to say because it is more wasteful, but recycled plastic might leach chemicals into your beauty products.

“I constantly walk with brands about their choices and encourage better ones, but what we define as better… maybe someone else wouldn’t. These conversations are so multi-layered and it’s hard.” The good news? These conversations are more frequent, which is opening the door for innovative entrepreneurs.

Greenwashing marketing is conveying messaging in a certain way to make a product seem more eco or green than it is. It can be expressed in many ways, including telling a half truth, for example: listing ingredients as they are raw and NOT what they become once they chemically interact with another ingredient.

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