Pitch Me Your Green Product, but Skip the Greenwash. Here’s How.
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?
“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.”
THIS. x1000. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve had clothing/accessories made from old bike inner tubes and baby toys stuffed with styrofoam discards promoted to me. Yes, these are things that would otherwise be thrown in a landfill, and it’s good to find ways to get maximum millage out of them. But these are materials that were not considered good or safe enough to be used in clothing/children’s toys the first time around – what makes them safer now that they’re recycled? Just because it keeps waste out of a landfill is no reason to bring it into my home.
I have a home-based shop and website where I make and sell 100% natural products. I use glass or aluminum bottles for liquids, but there’s no alternative available for the plastic spray nozzles & caps — it’s very frustrating! I don’t use fancy packaging for anything. I mail orders re-using boxes from supplies & I collect them from family & neighbours, too, and I re-use stuffing (sometimes bubble wrap) that my supplies arrive in. I have only one (82%) organic product because the price would be too high for people otherwise. I try to keep my prices as low as possible so everybody can afford natural alternatives. I live very simply myself. What I’m trying to say is that to meet all requirements above would make decent products out of reach for the majority of people. I wish it was otherwise, but sometimes just not possible.
Hi. The most important point is in the last paragraph. This post is not about being perfect but about fully disclosing your ingredients and practices so we can make up our own minds.
“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. “
Well, I’m certainly transparent! Every item on the website & every label has all ingredients listed. :)
Thanks so much for this blog post. I know it’s an older post but i just found you and this is the first post I’ve read. As a person who works towards a greener earth and a healthier planet I love hearing this. I am also a micro business owner who works towards not using plastics, I say works towards because however I try completely eliminating plastics has proved incredibly difficult. Seeing your list all spelled out is exactly what I what to know as a consumer from business, what I try to convey as a micro business owner and what I ask from my suppliers. Thank you again so very much.
Hi. What is your business and what are your challenges in deplasticking?
Way to go on addressing the greenwash! I would add a principle or criteria on worker rights and workplace dignity. I grew up on environmental justice values and the core principles consist of health and justice for the worker, community members and mother earth.
You ROCK lady! This is fantastic.
Thank you, thank you.]
I remember once buying a tube of “organic” makeup that turned out to packaged in a container that was colored with brown flecks to make the plastic cap LOOK like it was made from recycled plastic. I was infuriated!
I have also gotten really tired of so many organic and natural brands here in Japan who have every health buzz word printed on their product and none of the packaging is recyclable. (Here we can only recycle PET) One example is a really wonderful biodegradable laundry soap that I love, purporting to be created for the benefit of the ocean but it comes in a disposable plastic package that cannot be recycled. There is a total disconnect! How can you put so much effort into the soap without any thought of what will happen to the packaging?
I just attended the International Symposium on Marine Plastic Pollution hosted by Dr. Hideshige Takada, 5gyres and surfrider foundation last week that was held here in Tokyo, and many of the researchers mentioned how this was particularly a problem in Japan.
Like your standards!
preaching green. i’m part of your church!
Great article Beth, nothing makes me as mad a “organic” products packaged in plastic or lined with BPA.
Love it, love it…. Keep preaching green!!! Thank you so much for keeping it real. Love your site.
Keep on preaching green!!!! Thank you so much for keeping it real. Love your site.
I’m heading to Sustainable Brands on Monday. It will be interesting to compare your list to what the professional agencies say that customers want to hear.
Give us an update. I’d like to hear too.
I’ll get it to you before you go to LOHAS.
I’d love to hear more about this too! I’ve been mulling over some thesis ideas based on consumer/company expectations of one another and this blog is the one that inspired me to do that. So naturally, I check back regularly for more ideas since I’m still in the brainstorming phase.
Thank you Mary and Beth!
awesome post…i got so tired of the PR guys that i stopped doing product reviews. :(
Just as a consumer, my pet peeve is companies that mis-use terminology. For example, recycled plastic packaging is NOT eco-friendly, because it’s still plastic. And neither is a smaller plastic bottle of concentrated petro-chemical laundry soap.
As a blogger who cares about the origin of products, knowing exactly where something came from, and how it was handled is really important to me as well.
I agree with this post! It’s so hard to find products that aren’t wrapped in tons of plastic. Many time when I reach to put something into the recycling bin I wonder, “Is this really going to be recycled?” Once it leaves my house, I have no control over whether it just gets tossed in the trash. I would love to see packaging being reduced so much more.
Totally agree, Becki! That’s why I always try to find reusable items because at least I know what I will be doing with them!
Thanks for including my two cents. I find the some companies need copywriters so it is easier to decode what they truly mean to say. If I can’t understand it how can anyone else. Make it simple, clear, and don’t try and persuade me with fancy words that mean nothing. In the end, I, the consumer, will not trust you. Trust is everything.
I need to be persuaded that whatever they’re pitching me will ultimately reduce my impact in some way. If I don’t need it, I don’t care what other criteria it matches for green-ness — it’s still not green by my standards. No ‘eco-friendly’ recycled plastic cupcake holders, please! I guess that makes me a tough sell.
I figure it is up to each blogger to decide if the product itself is necessary or even interesting (some of those judgments are subjective), but how can we make those decisions if we don’t have all the information about what’s in it and how and where it’s made?
For true appeal, I’d like to know the impact from source to end. In fact, it does a lot to persuade me to pay extra so, tell me what it took to make and deliver this product to me, as well as what will happen to it when I’m through using it. I’m much more impressed when I think a company made tough decisions based on impact, rather than marketing.
@MarkDuncan This article in Treehugger today is relevant to your comment. https://www.treehugger.com/eco-friendly-furniture/price-everything-and-value-nothing-more-why-things-cost-more.html