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It’s not easy being Green: Does green marketing lie?

June 21, 2011

green marketing

Kermit the Frog really did have it right when he uttered the immortal words “it’s not easy being green” but I am not sure the world’s current eco crush was what he had in mind at the time.

As I trawl through another day of the online world and I see more and more people purporting the green message, I sometimes wonder just how well informed the well intended eco consumers of today are.

Something doesn’t seem quite right with this equation for me at least. Something doesn’t seem right at all.

Before I get dismissed in the pile of “you’re a meanie to the greenie”, I’d like to say I am for conservation- which is the careful management of the earth’s resources.

I grew up in the country and saw first hand the devastation over farming, using unsafe chemicals and putting profit before environment can lead. I try to avoid companies who are not ethical in their treatment of animals, people and the environment.  I support endeavours that lead to the education of people about our impact and think the rise of organic produce as well as Australian made produce is vital to continued health of the land and our economy.

So what is my problem?

The way I see it, there are two big sticking points with all the current green/eco love.

What is green marketing to you is not green to another…

green marketing

Green marketing has become another way of adding consumers to the mix- yet there are barely any benchmarks to qualify carrying a green label.

In Australia, we have no regulations governing what is appropriate use of environmental terminology in marketing.

What this means is unless a particular industry or body decides to introduce a measurement of environmental or organic compliance for their particular sphere of business, we have no way of really trusting this is the case.

Nor are the terms eco friendly or earth friendly defined or policed against standard qualifications you need to obtain before you can make claim to them. The same is true with ‘organics’- a quick trot down any shampoo aisle will show you products using that term that have no or limited organic value.

Definition within and between industries and industry sectors vary because there is no overarching compliance measurement.

You also don’t know if it is the business which has achieved the green rating, or the product- two very important distinctions. And that’s without tackling anything that may include non green ingredients in its creation or packaging. So with the push being driven by the industries themselves and being subject to definition, are you really getting the right information?

Marketing has been a tricky little sod in Australia for a while. For example, usage of the word “lite” in food can actually refer to colour or texture without being an issue. That’s right, that diet yoghurt you may think you are eating could simply just be pale in complexion, compliant by Australian ad standards and misleading you straight into “whoops” territory when on the scales.

Green unfortunately isn’t any different.  Without regulation and constraint, without measurements people need to obtain in order to carry terms or logos on their products, we as consumers are buying in good faith- and not all companies we buy from will be honest enough to honour it.

Beyond being another unregulated term, Boundary Claims of “sourced only within 100kms” have their own shortfalls. How far do you go down the creation of an item to classify it is indeed falling within 100 km radius of the place someone buys something? Is it every single bit of it including the plastic, glass paper or cardboard packaging? Is the factory who sells it just located in the local area or were all the building materials, raw resources, construction crew and architects from there too? Do they have a nail maker in town who supplied the materials for the build? Who made the glass? Where was the metal mined from? Is it local timber that makes up the building or product? Who did the marketing? Is there website hosted locally?

People have used these points to make these kinds of claims, ruining it for those who genuinely stick to local sourcing. 

Pedantic points maybe, but let’s cut the crap here.

Sydney would not work if we only sourced things from 100km radius of the CBD. I have never ever heard of a country town that is entirely self sufficient either.

We actually survive by maximising the various different regions as suppliers of various primary and secondary industry products because (wait for it…) sometimes someone else’s town is a hell of a lot better at growing or creating something than yours is! Shocking I know, but it’s true.

Do you want wine from the Barossa Valley, or would you like it from Tamworth? Do you want mangoes from Queensland or would you rather try and grow them in Wagga?

As Choice puts it:

There’s been some misunderstanding that food miles were devised to show total environmental impact of food production systems – for that they’re a poor indicator. They should be seen as one aspect of the bigger environmental picture.

But what about that bigger environmental picture?

If regional Australia dies, we’re boned

It’s not easy being Green: Does green marketing lie?

It’s really romantic and very powerful to have one of those 100 km dinners or ethos’ active because it highlights the use of petrol and how unsustainable it is in a way that supports local producers.

But let me ask you this- which do you think is the bigger environmental disaster, using fuel to transport goods or sending an entire regional area bust and having it’s people have no choice but to move to the city and place further pressure on the resources available in terms of housing, electricity, transport and food in places like Sydney and Melbourne?

What do we do in order to save petrol?

Stop buying stuff from Western and South Australia and the Northern Territory and allow families to fall into poverty?

Besides practicality involved in producing something or consumer quality as an issue, without benchmarks and certification on either call, why, if you are the person creating that new product for the market, would you restrict yourself to a potentially small market and make your own business at best, just afloat? You don’t.

More often than not it is because there are only so many apples in Orange that can be sold to people in town before the producer needs to go further afield to make a living. What is really wrong with that? Do we forgo our biggest export markets like wine and livestock because they are in places further away than the 100 km idea asks for?

Aren’t we just a little bit of a jerk if we expect the world to buy our products but we are pushing domestic marketing to such extremes that boundary claims are cool?

Beyond this… Let’s be sincere and practical.

Please everyone, become aware and conscious of what you are purchasing but also do your own research too- and think about what you are doing! Go to your cupboard right now. Then check out your handbag, workbag or backpack. Pull everything out of your glove compartment and your night stand. Consult the fridge.

Ask yourself some very important questions…

How much of your stuff is Australian made?

How much of the green stuff actually has some kind of certification on their business website or some industry compliance?

How far can you trace either the Australian or the eco friendly traits through?

How much research have you done to verify a company’s green marketing claim, especially when there is no evidence of proper seals of approval from independent bodies?


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