A few years back (2014), I was eating with some new friends, talking about environmental impact. I said my husband and I chose to drive a Prius to lessen our impact, and my friend responded, “You know their batteries cause a lot of environmental damage. It might not be a better choice.” What? I was incredulous. How is this possible?
Some website searching later, I found out that hybrid batteries, made of lead acid, can contaminate land with severe toxicity when improperly disposed (for example, put in landfills). In addition:
“The nickel contained in Prius’ battery is mined and smelted at a plant in Ontario that has caused so much environmental damage to the surrounding environment that NASA has used the ‘dead zone’ around the plant to test moon rovers.”
This, my readers, is greenwashing. When you are led to believe you are making an environmentally-friendly choice, but there are environmental consequences that the company is intentionally withholding. Toyota focused on what it was doing right (less carbon emissions), without looking to fix the impact it had on Canadian towns and the lead poisoning its batteries might cause.
What does a sustainable company look like?
A sustainable company takes responsibility for how it produces its product, from its raw material sourcing, how it treats their workers, and how it interacts with its community. They think about their social and environmental impact, up and down the supply chain. They are honest about areas for growth, and develop plans to address them.
Earth Mamas International have adopted the mantra “Progress over Perfection”. No human is perfect. No corporation is perfect. A sustainable company continually strives to make progress to help keep life healthy on this Earth. They know they have warts (metaphorically). They just don’t try to cover it up, rather they make a long-term plan to get rid of them.
Where can I find this important information about corporate practices?
This is hard. Trusting advertisements, labels or branding will put you in the hands of greenwashers. Nature Valley granola bars wore the label “100% natural”, but were found to have Round-up chemicals in their bars. Media is also unreliable: companies can take out ads that look like articles in newspapers or magazines, that laude the positives, and ignore the negatives.
Here are some suggestions for where to do your research:
This logo is popping up on more and more websites and labels. The B Corp certification is for businesses that meet the highest standards of verified social and environmental performance, public transparency, and legal accountability to balance profit and purpose. B Corps are accelerating a global culture shift to redefine success in business and build a more inclusive and sustainable economy.
B Corp certification is meant to let consumers know quickly about the ethics and values of a company. They certify companies from all over the world, 52 from Colombia alone. The B Corp directory has extensive information about why each company got the score they did. There are four categories: governance, environment, workers, community.
Some companies are going to be more focused in one area over another. For example, Ben & Jerry’s received a rating of 110 out of 200, with the minimum being 80. The community score is extremely high, which tells the consumer that Ben & Jerry’s is concerned with supply chain poverty alleviation, as well as diversity and inclusion. Their environmental score is lower, which could be a deciding factor in continuing to enjoy their ice cream.
Corporations must apply for B Corp certification. Therefore not every sustainable or ethical corporation is in the directory, because they might not have applied. If your favorite company isn’t on the list, don’t take it as a bad sign. Do encourage them to go through the process so they are able to clearly show what they are doing to make this world a better place.
Fashion is the #2 polluting industry, so transparency in this area is very important. Please see our blog post Just One Shirt for more information on the social and environmental impacts. Where you choose to shop can have a greater or lesser impact, depending on the company. Good On You can help you make smart decisions about what fashion companies to support.
Both a website and an app, Good On You details how each fashion company does in three categories:
-People (their workforce)
-Planet (its impact from production and supply chain)
-Animals (the impact of using leather, fur, feathers, etc).
For example, Reebok gets a Good rating (4 out of 5) because of its environmental and labor commitments. I would never have guessed Reebok was doing all these good things, and with Good On You, I can feel more certain that I am supporting fashion companies that are worth my money.
Small companies get bought out by large companies daily. It can be hard to keep up with whether or not your favorite brands still remain independent and committed to their values. For example, Bert’s Bees is owned by Clorox corporation. Since 2007! Clorox has been keeping that quiet, because they know how loyal Bert’s customers will feel about spending dollars to support Clorox’s bottom line. To help you navigate the murky waters of ownership and pesticide use, the Cornucopia Institute steps in for the rescue.
Cornucopia Institute has scorecards for a range of products: eggs, dairy, grains, cereals, toothpaste, snack bars, to name a few. They let you know if the producer is small-scale or independent of a larger corporation, and if they are certified organic. This is US-based, but for snack bars and other products that ship internationally, Cornucopia is helpful world-wide.
This site is specific to those wanting to pick out sustainable choices from the fish store. Reports of overfishing and declining fish populations is worrying, but there is something you can do to help! Consult Seafood Watch’s list of seafood to eat.
Their resources cover the US extensively, state by state, with some worldwide recommendations in their National Guide. Their recommendations change, so it is worth downloading the app to keep up-to-date. Sushi gets its own section, with suggestions for simple switches to make your orders more sustainable. They also provide eco-certifications for wild and farmed seafood. When I was buying fish at a local market near Monterey, CA, I saw these labels, letting me know that the farm used best aquaculture practices, or that the fish was caught from a sustainable population.
These are the resources I use to avoid greenwashing and support sustainable companies. I am always on the hunt for more resources, especially ones that specialize internationally. Traveling can be the hardest time to make sustainable choices, so knowing where to spend your money can make a big difference.
The internet has made information accessible to a wider population. Now let’s use that information to make sustainable choices for our families and this world.
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