Organic, plant-based, vegan-friendly; what buzzwords are your green beauty products boasting? And, are their claims as clean as they seem? NH investigates…
Since sustainability shifted into the public’s focus, we’ve become more conscious of the products that we’re choosing to add to our shopping basket. But the demand for natural and eco-friendly products has brands vying for consumer attention and some are concealing hazy, un-environmentally-friendly practises behind the green buzzwords, withholding information about their supply chains and being vague about their ‘green goals’. The term greenwashing is modelled on the word ‘whitewash’ and it refers to green qualities, such as eco-friendly, sustainable, natural, organic or regenerative, that marketers and advertisers attach to their products. Often undetectable unless you take the time to read the back of the packaging, greenwashing isn’t against the law, despite it detracting from brands that are making a concerted effort to be more eco-conscious and manipulating the consumer.
‘Greenwashing’, also known as ‘the green screen’, was coined in the 1980s after environmentalist, Jay Westervelt commented on how hotels were encouraging their guests to reuse their towels to help ‘save the environment’, while making no effort to reduce their overall energy waste. Since then, countless companies, both big and small, have used similar tactics to try and lure the environmentally-concerned customer in. In 2009, a fast-food chain changed the colour of their logos in an effort to show to the consumer their commitment to the preservation of natural resources. More recently, in 2018, in response to the calls for banning plastic straws, a coffee shop chain introduced a new straw-less lid that actually contained more plastic by weight than the old straw and lid combination.
Unmasking the murky underbelly of ‘clean’ beauty is easier said than done. The word ‘natural’, for one thing, has no agreed-upon definition. “Unfortunately, the lack of legal regulations to support the rise in demand for organic, green, clean and conscious products means that consumers need to be savvier than ever to be sure that what they’re buying is what they expect,” says Georgia Barnes, Senior Business Development Manager for Beauty and Wellbeing for the Soil Association (soilassociation.org). “The term organic isn’t regulated for beauty like it is in food, which means that a product can contain as little as one percent organic ingredients and still be labelled as so.” Similarly, veganfriendly often has natural and sustainable connotations because of its association with the planet-friendly, plant-based diet.
“The basic requirements for a product to be vegan are that it must not contain any animal extracts or animal by-products, both in the ingredients and the manufacturing process,” explains Wendy Stirling, founder of the beauty brand, Botanicals. “Vegan living also means avoiding cruelty to animals and their exploitation, including testing products on animals. However, this doesn’t account for things such as palm oil, which was responsible for about eight percent of the world’s deforestation between 1990 and 2008.”
Of course, it’s all well and good having responsibly sourced, all-natural ingredients, but if the products come in a box with polystyrene balls, and are wrapped in single-use plastic, the responsibility of disposing of that falls on the consumer. According to research carried out by beauty brand Garnier, 56 percent of the UK don’t recycle their bathroom products, so here are a few good ways to become more eco-savvy.
• Opt for glass packaging over plastic, and take the time to understand the different recycling labels. Once you’ve used your product, try to make sure that you’ve emptied and cleaned your bottles and pots thoroughly before you bin them – you can usually leave the lids on as long as it’s not a trigger head or a pump.
• Purchasing products that are packaged in widely-recycled materials, such as Polyethylene Terephthalate (PET) bottles and cardboard, is another way to help the planet; and if you want to go one step further, look to buy from brands that offer a refillable service or have reusable packaging.
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