The Seven Deadly Sins of Greenwashing: Part II

Greenwashed

After learning about greenwashing and it’s history, I wanted to do a little comparison research on the products in my own kitchen. I chose to compare two brands/items that we regularly buy in our household: Silk soymilk and Meijer Naturals whole wheat flour. (Meijer is a Michigan company that owns several brands, including “Meijer Naturals”, “Meijer Organics”, “Meijer EcoWise”, “Meijer Gold”, and “Meijer Elements”.)

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Silk Organic Soymilk

Silk makes a lot of lofty promises on its packaging. The carton emphasizes that Silk is a trustworthy, honest company and guarantees that if you don’t love the product, you’ll get your money back. Ingredients, they say, are “grown responsibly, and… as close to nature” as possible. No artificial colors, flavors, high-fructose corn syrup, dairy, or GMO. To back up that last one, it displays a label that reads “Non-GMO Project Verified”. It also provides a web address where you can track where the soybeans came from (North America) at SilkSoymilk.com/TraceIt.

I followed this link to their website to have a look around. In fact, Silk seems to do a pretty nice job of backing up their claims. In the Our Story section, you have the option to read about Silk’s commitments to Non-GMO ingredients, resource and water conservation, and recycling. They partner with several seemingly respectable organizations, and provide links. These partners include The Non-GMO Project, Change the Course Colorado River Restoration Project, Carton Council, Bonneville Environmental Foundation, and four others. Following these links, I’m taken to organization websites that, for all intents and purposes, seem to be perfectly credible. Back on Silk’s website, they explain their involvement with these partners and reference actual reports published by the USDA as well as assessments of their Life Cycle and Water Footprint.

I’m impressed with their transparency. I can’t positively identify any of the Seven Sins of Greenwashing. They make specific claims, and then back them up; they do a good job of explaining why they make the environmental choices they do, which eliminates any worry of irrelevance; their Non-GMO label is backed by an actual project which allows consumers to make informed decisions. I guess I have no way of knowing whether there are hidden trade offs or fibs without doing a much more in depth study of the company and their practices. But they seem to have a pretty comprehensive view of sustainability, focusing on water, recycling, resource conservation, and non-GMOs, so I feel safe believing that there are no hidden trade offs, and have no reason to believe they are lying about anything. I give Silk an A+.

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Meijer Naturals Whole Wheat Flour

We started buying from the Meijer Naturals line of food items over the “regular” Meijer items because the prices seemed comparable and they promised natural, non-GMO ingredients. Personally I’m not fully sold on the idea that GMO products are the evil that some would make them out to be – but I usually choose non-GMO if given the option, based on the assumption that overall, natural is probably best. (I’m still reading up on this, and I do think consumers should at least be informed of potential GMO ingredients.)

There is no direct web address listed anywhere on the packaging, but Meijer is a well-known company in Michigan, so I just googled “Meijer Naturals” and arrived at their “Brands” page.

This was a big disappointment. Basically, this page just lists the names of their different product lines: Meijer, Gold, Organics, Naturals, EcoWise, Elements. These logos do not seem to be clickable, so I can’t learn about the individual product lines or what sets them apart.

On the package of the whole wheat flour, it does give a description that reads: “Meijer Naturals – minimally processed products with no bioengineered ingredients (GMOs); no high-fructose corn syrup or artificial sweeteners; no artificial additives or preservatives; and no hydrogenated oils or trans fats.”

Basically, they make nearly exactly the same claims as Silk’s packaging does – but Silk’s website backs it all up, whereas Meijer’s website simply states: “Our brands not only meet, but often exceed the quality of comparable national brands. Many supercenters have their own brands, but Meijer takes it a step further by addressing your specific needs with specialty brands….”

Specialty brands? That’s all I get? You haven’t even made a claim as to what specific needs your product is possibly addressing…. Nor have you compared any data with that of “comparable national brands”. Definitely Meijer is committing the sin of no proof, and likely others as well (“Naturals” – vagueness! Their own non-GMO label – maybe a false label? Fibbing?) After seeing this rather sparse website, I have little reason to believe the truthfulness of their claims. I give Meijer and all their brands a big fat F!

Data Counts!

I was a little surprised at how vague Meijer’s website was in that they don’t even try to define their different product lines or why they make them. I expected at least some jargony differentiation between their Organics, Naturals, and EcoWise lines. However, I did expect Meijer to be less environmentally conscious than Silk. I’ve always been under the impression that Silk was a fairly “green” company – mostly because of their packaging and their “Love it or Your Money Back!” promises. My research today confirmed this. I can’t say, though, that I wasn’t disappointed to learn how exaggerated Meijer’s claims were.

Do you have any greenwashed labels in your kitchen? I’d love to hear from you! Tell me what you find out in the comments below.

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