When I embarked on my weight loss journey four years ago, I spent a lot of time learning about ingredients. I was on a mission to lose the 40 pounds I gained in grad school and correct my poor relationship with food. To me, it seemed like a no-brainer: focus on the spices, vegetables and extras that are good for me and stay clear of anything that was processed, had artificial sugars or would contribute to my fat stores.
Long story short, I was able to drop the 40 pounds in under a year by maintaining healthy eating. A large part of my victory is equated to the minimal guess-and-check work allotted in the food industry. For the most part, the food industry is regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), who looks at all foods and food ingredients (apart from meat, poultry, and certain processed egg products) that are introduced or offered for sale in the United States.
The FDA has a lengthy process to approval that eases customers peace of mind by ensuring credibility. Unlike the fashion and grooming industry, who has zero regulations on fibers, ingredients or claims. If a brand says it is sustainable or “clean,” it has no responsibility to prove it. There is nothing to qualify a company that markets it’s products with these labels. And since one third of Americans are willing to pay more for green and environmentally-friendly products, brands are using it to their advantage. For that reason, shoppers are constantly being fooled left and right — in a process called greenwashing.
What is greenwashing?
Coined by environmentalist Jay Westerveld in 1986, greenwashing, is the act of brands who are capitalizing on consumers interested in supporting the environment. Eco-labeling is often vague, confusing and majority of the time, untrue. Sometimes it is not intentional but it still perpetuates information overload and provides an easy way out for conscious consumers who may not have the time to do adequate research. It directly contributes to pollution, while companies reap the benefits.
Why are there no regulations?
The Federal Trade Commission, established in 1914, regulates deceptive marketing practices. However, to date, their Green Guides (issued in 1992) are not legally binding, but instead serve as a guideline to proper eco-labeling. The guide says that, “marketers should not make a broad, unqualified, general environmental benefit claims like “green” or “eco-friendly” because such broad sweeping claims can have various meaning but still convey no info about specific environmental benefits. The Guides also suggest that businesses should not make claims about a product being recyclable unless at least 60% of consumers can access facilities capable of recycling the product’s material composition.” I am happy that this guide and organization exits, but if they aren’t legally binding, it’s almost for nothing.
There are, of course, green certifications and stamps of approval that appear on products. But be wary of those as well, because most require a small fee for the certification or that the company self-identifies and self-evaluates with the claim. Let’s be real, it’s easy to claim something you’re not without the fear of proving it, especially when there is a potential pay-out. If you’re interested in learning more, Architectural Digest has a great list of common words on labels aimed to throw you off.
Why the grooming industry needs regulations
When a brand is guilty of deceptive marketing, they are simply reprimanded with a slap on the hand and an occasional fine. They have to agree to stop marketing the product in that manner but in no way, shape or form, do they have to admit guilt — allowing them to switch to a different marketing tactic that might also be deceptive.
When there are so many claims floating around with no regulations in place, it’s hard to know which claims to trust when shopping for new grooming products. Overselling the environmental benefits of grooming confuses shoppers and plants seeds of mistrust.
I think companies as individuals can also share the responsibility in righting the wrong by tracing their supply chain and being transparent to the public about where they fall short. Consumers need to feel like they have all the information in place in order to make a well informed decision, especially if it affects the environment. Brands should share their carbon impact, how much water they use and energy needed for each product.
I don’t think a brand will ever truly be 100 percent sustainable. After all, the very nature of the industry structure — brands and manufactures, and production of raw material seem to be quite spread out, tangled in complex supply chains — does not make it easy to be truly sustainable but sharing exact practices and being truthful to labeling could be steps in the right direction.
What can consumers do?
Since regulations are non-existent, there are a few ways we’d like to help you navigate through brand claims.
- No Proof: Zero evidence appears on their website or online proving their claims.
- No Future: Do they discus what they are working on or how they are improving their current claims.
- Language: Do they use the words “green” or “sustainable.”
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