My email in-box is forever filling up with product pitches from various PR reps who want me to review their latest offerings on this blog. While I love reviewing things like plastic-free chewing gum, plastic-free lip balm, or compostable cleaning cloths, more often than not, the pitches I receive are either irrelevant to my topic–I’m not going to review an organic shampoo in a plastic bottle, even if the producer hand-picked the ingredients from her own backyard herb garden and reduced her carbon footprint by mixing them up using a pedal-powered generator–or don’t contain enough information to capture my interest. Several years ago, I wrote up a detailed Advertising/Review policy, but it doesn’t seem to help much. And in conversations (read: rants) among other green bloggers, I’ve discovered I’m not alone. So I decided to write a letter to “green” companies to let them know the right way to pitch me their products. A version of this post also appears on the GreenBiz.com website, where I’m hoping many green businesses will see it.
Dear Green Business:
Although some pitches for greenwashed products generate hilarious comments in green blogger chat groups, they are probably not the kinds of comments you intend. So here are a few rules we would like you to follow to avoid the greenwash altogether. The keyword in every case: TRANSPARENCY
Don’t just tell me what’s not in your product. Tell me what is in it.
Everyone loves to tout their product as BPA-free, phthalate-free, lead-free, even chemical-free, which of course is a meaningless claim. So you’re free of lots of bad stuff. Great. But how do I and my readers know that your product is safe if you don’t tell us what ingredients are in it? There are thousands of possible additives in plastics, for example. How do I know what could possibly leach out if I don’t know what’s in it to begin with? How do I know if your fragrances and dyes are safe if I don’t know what they contain? Words like “food grade plastic” are not enough for us. I know you want to protect your trade secrets. But we green bloggers want to arm our readers with information to protect their health and the environment. The more transparent you are with us, the more likely we will be to promote your product.
Don’t just tell me your product is natural or organic or compostable. Tell me how it’s packaged.
I’m not likely to promote your compostable dinnerware if it’s packaged in non-compostable plastic wrap. The packaging is as much a part of what you are selling as the product itself. And many of us are confused by the idea of organic food packaged in plastic, when some plastics may leach endocrine-disrupting chemicals back into the food. When you pitch me, please tell me about your choice of packaging and why you feel it’s the best choice. You don’t have to be perfect, but openness goes a long way. One example I love to cite is Stonyfield Yogurt. When the company came out with its PLA baby yogurt container, it held a webinar for the media to explain every decision that went into creating the packaging, detailing both the pros and the cons. Normally, I wouldn’t have blogged about a yogurt in a PLA plastic container, but in this case, I wrote a lengthy post because I appreciated Stonyfield’s approach.
Don’t just tell me your product is biodegradable. Tell me under what conditions and show me your third party certifications.
“Biodegradable” is a very confusing word and means many different things. First of all, I want to know what your product is made from. Is it made from plants? Or is it a fossil-based plastic with a degradable additive? If it’s made from some kind of plastic, has it been tested to ASTM standards? And have those test results been analyzed by an independent third party certifier? What conditions are needed for biodegradation? Commercial compost facility? Backyard compost? Sea water? And how long does it take to biodegrade under various conditions? A beach toy made from “biodegradable plastic” is no good if it will not biodegrade completely in the marine environment. Oh, and about those degradable additives… what ingredients are in them? I’m still waiting to find a company that will volunteer that information. I’ve been waiting a long time.
Don’t just tell me your product or packaging is recyclable. Tell me how I can recycle it.
Recycling systems are different in every community. Not all communities accept every theoretically recyclable plastic, for example. And consumers get confused by chasing arrows symbols, assuming they can just toss the product in their curbside bin. Do you have a take-back program? Do you practice extended producer responsibility? I’m much more likely to promote your product if you do. And if you don’t, instead of just telling me it’s recyclable, please use clarifying language like “Recyclable in most community recycling systems. Check with your municipality to find out whether this product is recyclable where you live.”
Don’t just tell me your product has a low carbon footprint. Tell me how it’s safe for my family.
So many products these days are touted as “green” because they produce fewer carbon emissions to manufacture and ship. But if your product is made with chemicals that could leach out and harm my health, it’s not so very green in my book. Once again, transparency is the key to my heart.
A Few More Tips
After coming up with these this list, I polled some other green bloggers to find out what’s important to them. Here are a few more things we want to know:
* Erin Naumowicz from Healthy Home Magazine wants to see your organic certification, or if you don’t have one, she wants you to explain why you are unable to at this time. Sadly, we have found through experience that we can’t necessarily rely on the word of producers. Most of you are honest, but the few dishonest companies ruin it for everyone.
* Becky Striepe from Glue and Glitter wants to know where is your product made, by whom, and under what conditions?
* Danika Carter from Your Organic Life asks if your product is certifed Fair Trade, what is the percentage of Fair Trade ingredients?
* Anna Hackman from Green Talk wants to know if you provide full information about ingredients, packaging, and practices on your website? Is the information easy for the average consumer to find?
* And both Erin and Lori Alper from Groovy Green Livin’ want to know how do you give back and what other initiatives or causes you support.
The Bottom Line
We don’t expect you to be perfect. Some of us are business people ourselves selling our own products. We know there are trade offs and every product has an environmental footprint. But all the bloggers I asked said the same thing. Openness and transparency are more important than anything else. The more we know, the more likely we are to work with you. So provide your PR person with as much information as possible. And be ready for our questions.
So, what else would you add to this list?