What’s ‘Greenwashing’ and How Can I Tell if Something is Really Green, Natural or Non-Toxic?


It’s time for New Year’s resolutions! The perfect time to get started on going green and natural and providing a healthy environment for you and your family – an environment free of toxic, or potentially toxic, chemicals. But embarking on such a journey can be confusing; you may have already experienced the let down of buying something that is labeled ‘green’, ‘natural’, ‘eco’, or ‘non-toxic’, only to find out that there’s very little difference between that product and its toxic competitors. That kind of marketing is now known as ‘greenwashing.’

‘Greenwashing’ is a relatively new term. It’s an adaptation of ‘whitewashing’, which is defined in Encarta as a “cover-up: a coordinated attempt to hide unpleasant facts, especially in a political context.”

The same dictionary defines ‘greenwashing’ as “bogus environmentalism: public relations’ initiatives by a business or organization, e.g. advertising or public consultation, that purport to show concern for the environmental impact of its activities.”

Examples of ‘greenwashing’ aren’t hard to find:

• Cosmetics that add a little aloe vera or Vitamin E and label their products ‘natural’, even though they have made no changes in the rest of their ingredients.

• Laundry detergents or cleaning products that add baking soda or enzymes to their products and display in big, bold letters on the box that they ‘clean with natural enzyme action’, but they fail to mention that they also contain phthalates, sodium laurel sulphate, and so on.

• With crib mattresses, and mattresses for adults, you might see something labeled as ‘eco-…’ or ‘soy-based’, giving you the idea that the foam they use is made from soybeans – what could be more natural? In fact, the soybean content is minimal, and the rest of the materials are the same as they used to be.

We couldn’t possibly put all the examples of ‘greenwashing’ in this blog, nor can we give you all the information on each chemical and its level of toxicity. But we can give you some information on where to find out this kind of information relatively quickly and easily. Here are some of our favorites resources:

Healthy Child Healthy World – A wealth of data, and a good search engine. Just type in the chemical you’re concerned about, or another question, and you’ll find answers.

Environmental Working Group – This site really keeps you up to date with what’s going on in the world of toxics and creating a safe home and environment. It also has a great menu system and search engine.

Cosmetics Database – This is a wonderful tool for information on the toxicity of the ingredients for cosmetics and personal care products – everything from baby shampoo to anti-aging serums. Lots of detail. You can use this database to find out about the healthiest choices in these kinds of products.

Home Safe Home and Toxic Free – Two excellent books by Debra Lynn Dadd. What chemicals to watch out for in what products, healthy alternatives, and more. Informative, complete, well-organized, fun and easy to read – you’ll want to read them cover to cover and keep them for easy reference.

As for baby crib mattresses and crib mattress bedding, check our website pages “What’s In” and “What’s Not In” for lists of the materials we use and don’t use, and why.

Of course, there are literally hundreds if not thousands of other sources of information, but with the few listed above, you should be able to find out just about everything you need to know. And they will help you cut through the greenwashing propaganda like a pro!

We’re looking forward to a happy, healthy, 2012 and wish the same for you and your family. Let’s make all our resolutions a reality!

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