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Why “Green” Doesn’t Always Mean Great

By Sara Mack                                                                                                                                                              Communications Intern at Bootstrap Compost, Inc.

Environmentalism is nuanced. While some companies are built on genuine dedication to saving the earth, and are overwhelmingly committed to reducing their carbon footprint, far too many companies choose to market their products or services as the sustainable choice – even if their overall mission statement or operations in no way support those claims.

Impact statements like this one help Bootstrap to show the true environmental impact made by a particular commercial account.

Lukewarm environmentalism in this fashion has the potential to do more harm than good. When a product is marketed as beneficial for the earth but requires a large amount of CO2 for transportation and production, for instance, the boost in sales provided by eco-branding ends up helping the company way more than it is helping the planet overall. This type of marketing has a name – greenwashing – and it’s fast becoming recognized as a particularly insidious business practice. 

As an employee within an organization that prides itself on its environmental values, greenwashing is definitely something that I have been trained to keep an eye out for – both in my own life and from a professional perspective. The good news is that it’s possible to avoid companies that perpetuate greenwashing – all it takes is a little research.

I know, I know, it sounds like a major time suck. Even though making the right choice from an environmental perspective often involves a few extra minutes to initially figure things out, as soon as I realize which products are the legitimately the most “green” (owing to their use of natural products or reliance on renewable energy, among dozens of other metrics) I make it a habit to only buy those goods. Easy peasy. As far as research goes, here are some great places to dig up the real dirt on products and services: 

1. Friends and family

It sounds too good to be true, but, chances are, if you’re interested in making more environmentally-friendly choices about your consumption, then so are your kinfolk. Even if this isn’t the case, it’s possible that they might know something about the specific product you are inquiring about. And, if not, they might be interested in why you are asking, and become more aware of their own choices as a result. Let’s call this the “pass it on” strategy. 

2. Specialized Facebook groups

As someone on the cusp of the Millennial/Gen-Z generational divide, I totally understand some folks’ aversion to Facebook. This being said, on the hunt for somewhat obscure environmental insight I have found some of the most accurate information from the depths of various Facebook groups. Almost all metropolitan areas have specialized “Zero Waste” or more general eco groups, and I strongly encourage you to check them out.

 3. Website of the company in question

Even though it seems like it would be in a company’s best interest to avoid making certain information public, it is common practice for information about a product, such as the location of the production facilities or its main ingredients, to be located on an FAQ or a few clicks deep into a website. (Also, there’s always the Contact Us form!) This type of information can lead you to the answers you’re looking for even if the direct answer doesn’t immediately reveal itself with a simple google search. 

Sometimes plastic wrappers like this one end up in our compost buckets — this adds extra work for our warehouse team to avoid contamination!

Meanwhile, it’s worth noting that one of the most common examples of greenwashing in relation to composting comes in the form of products being branded as “biodegradable.” Technically, everything, regardless of plastic content or chemical compounds that will remain in soil long term, is biodegradable. Think back to when you were in elementary school and you learned about litter and plastic pollution. Chances are, you were probably told something along the lines of, “it takes 500 years for one plastic water bottle to break down!” and then reminded that we should always leave no trace – especially when it means avoiding plastic pollution that will be around for decades to come.

What they don’t teach you in elementary school is that, even though technically the water bottle will be gone in 500 years, there will still be lingering effects through chemicals that could remain in the soil indefinitely. It is for this exact reason that it is important to read up on your compostable products to learn more about whether or not they will simply “break down”, or whether they will be able to break down into nutrient-rich black gold that can make soil healthy and safe for agricultural purposes. 

At Bootstrap, we work hard to ensure that our product (black gold!), as well as the way we generate the finished compost, all takes place in the most legitimately sustainable way possible – no greenwashing allowed – and we have the whole Team Boot community to thank for that (including our loyal customers and fans).