It’s 8 p.m. on a Thursday, and I’m staring at a smorgasbord of raw vegetables strewn across my kitchen counter. At which point, my husband appears and glides towards the freezer, emerging with a pack of chicken nuggets. He knows “the look” and points stubbornly to “100% NATURAL!” plastered across the box.
Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to a prime example of greenwashing.
It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to peek at a plate of chicken nuggets and realize there is absolutely nothing natural about them. But it’s sure nice to believe that a plate of processed chicken could somehow be healthy. So how do corporate behemoths, like Tyson, get away with it?
Consumers are smarter than ever about ingredients and the harmful effects of processed foods. We’re no longer in the dark about the horrific conditions that plague the livestock industry. Slaughterhouses are often rife with abuse. The poor conditions often foster disease, causing more animals to depend on antibiotics to keep them alive long enough to kill. Diseased meat has become part of our diets through poor factory conditions. If you ever want to the motivation to go vegetarian, just google meat pus.
But nobody wants to imagine themselves gnawing on a breaded chicken tumor — so the spin doctors get to work and produce slogans like “ALL NATURAL INGREDIENTS.” They make a big song and dance out of being ecologically woke. But often, it’s nothing more than a bait-and-switch tactic, designed to lure consumers into a false sense of security about the products they purchase.
For instance, Tyson publically formed a panel of advisors to weigh in on the wellbeing of farmed animals, yet nothing has been done to change farming conditions.
Although Tyson lists all of the ingredients as 100 percent natural, they don’t disclose what is being fed to the chickens — which is a heavy cocktail of human antibiotics. They’ve pledged to stop using human antibiotics by 2017, which leaves a big question mark around what type of chemicals they will use, given that the farms are already brimming with disease.
In fact, things that have popped up from so-called “All Natural” factory farms include salmonella, e.coli, and whatever antibiotics the farm feels like using because the FDA does not monitor antibiotic use in farmed animals. Humans can build up a resistance to antibiotics, and should an epidemic virus spread — like, say, bird flu — humans have no ability to fight the strain, resulting in many deaths. Oh yeah, and a lethal poison like arsenic is allowed in chicken feed — which isn’t regulated by the FDA, either.
Of course, none of this constitutes directly as an “ingredient,” so misleading packaging is free to take a liberal brush to the truth.
McDonald’s has also made a move towards going green by claiming it has ended the use of antibiotics in its chicken. Too bad that McNuggets have been found to contain dimethylpolysiloxane, which is found in Silly Putty and a petroleum-based preservative called tertiary butylhydroquinone.
It’s not just giant food conglomerates that have adopted shady practices to save face.
In Europe, the car manufacturer Volkswagen adopted a very environmentally friendly image with advertising like this:
Again, connecting the dots between automotive emissions and a “green” image puts some strain on the imagination. But that was nothing compared to the real scandal brewing at the heart of this greenwashing campaign.
In September 2015, the EPA noticed that Volkswagen had intentionally programmed to release a controlled amount of emissions during laboratory testing only. However, in day-to-day use, the car emitted 40 TIMES more nitrogen oxide than it appeared to emit during testing. The scandal reverberated around the world and caused several million cars to be recalled.
During the 2015 Paris Climate Change Talks, artists hijacked billboards with their own response to the scandal:
It’s a sad fact that greenwashing occurs everywhere. The FTC has cracked down on multiple ‘green’ claims that have turned out to be a figment of greenwashing. For example:
- Rayan products labelled as "bamboo"
- Dog waste bags that claimed to be biodegradable — but weren’t
- ‘Flushable’ wet wipes that were not environmentally friendly
Companies have been exposed time and time again for not just twisting the truth — but abandoning it altogether.
How To Spot Greenwashing
- Use common sense. Do chicken nuggets grow from trees? Nope, and therefore they are not natural. Do you see sugar on the ingredient list? An excess of salt? Polyunsaturated fat? Vegetable oil? “Natural flavor?” These are easy ways to hack a greenwashed label. Anything that isn’t crystal clear, like ambiguously defined “flavors,” is a red flag that you’re being greenwashed. Check the serving sizes, too. If they are deceptively small (i.e. one serving size = 4 chips), it means this company is okay with trying to deceive you. Be suspicious. Broccoli would never play you like that.
- Watch out for fluffy language. Eco-friendly, recyclable, sustainable, committed — these are all words that spin agents love to use. But always double check the ingredients, or simply Google the company name and greenwashing together to find out the truth.
- A recent article broke down the most commonly greenwashed items in America. Read this list, and the next time you see “green” claims by these manufacturers, think twice:
- Beauty products
- Household cleaning supplies
- Paper products
- Pet food
- Laundry detergent
- Bottled water
Be skeptical of any claims until you do a little research and find out for yourself. Have you found any truly green companies that you swear by? Share your favorite green companies in the comments. If you need me, I’ll be burying my husband’s nuggets in the backyard.