Green Marketing & How to Vote With Your Dollar
My initial plan for this week's article was to write specifically on the story of chocolate, however, I noticed my writing shifting toward food systems and green marketing. So here we are. Since I have a little bit of business background, specifically in international marketing, I have been able to understand several viewpoints behind the intentions of business. Business has been used for centuries to grow the economy. It is focused on financial success/security. Its purpose is not to protect human rights and the environment; and I’m not saying that as a criticism. I am not categorizing business as a bad thing, as it has many great teachings of psychology and sociology, but rather, people choose to use their business minds toward an idea, and as brilliant as those ideas may be, oftentimes, ethics can be neglected. Although in recent years, businesses are being challenged to take further into account how their actions impact people and the environment. They are challenged to take a holistic approach. This is good for everybody— it’s always good to see several viewpoints.
Global food trade is incredibly complex. It has several layers behind the production and distribution of a certain product, and it can look very different from one product to another. Capitalism has made it easier for big business to implement systems in order to sell low cost food for privileged parts of the world, while neglecting human rights and environmental protection in other parts of the world. It is a major injustice. In a culture where we are bombarded with marketing ads about cheap food, discounts, coupons and deals, perhaps we should think twice about whether or not what we are buying is in fact a good deal.
Most prominently in our most loved products—coffee, sugar, chocolate and tea, within their production are human rights abused and environmental protections neglected. Within these industries are millions of child labourers, and underpaid workers working in the Global South to feed our coffee addictions, chocolate cravings and need for sugar. Farmers in these markets work strenuous jobs, often with the use of herbicides and pesticides which deplete the soil health, as well as put the farmers health at risk. Behind our deeply dark industry made chocolate, lies a world of poverty, modern world slavery, and environmental degradation. It may seem as if we are making the steps to the right direction with an environmental movement on the rise but unfortunately, big business has found their way of stretching the truth. They have accommodated their marketing to the new generation that demands more information and truth. They are smart in understanding that people are inherently good, and want to make good decisions. As a result, they throw on words such as sustainable, ethical, and green to make their products look much better than what they are, while having no actual standard or committee confirming that they will actually be that. This is also known as greenwashing.
"Greenwashing is the process of conveying a false impression or providing misleading information about how a company's products are more environmentally sound. Greenwashing is considered an unsubstantiated claim to deceive consumers into believing that a company's products are environmentally friendly." -Will Kenton, Investopedia
It can be applied to all sectors, from home products, construction materials and to the food we eat. Just because those words are printed on the package, it does not in any way hold those companies accountable to effectuate the broad meanings of sustainable, eco and green. Yes maybe they are doing some good, but to call yourself sustainable, ethical, eco and green is a big claim. Those words hold a lot of weight and responsibility.
I know that people in this world want a clean, healthy, and just planet. That’s why we buy products that have sustainable, eco, ethical and green written on them. But now that we know that those words written on a package don’t actually hold a lot of meaning, we are pushed to think about our choices on a deeper level. Why is it green? Why is it sustainable? How is it ethical?
Knowing how to make that happen is the hard part. So what can we do about it? How do we know what we’re consuming is good or not? There is a lot of grey area between good or not and understanding that is also a crucial part of the process. Consuming as little as we can is the single best action that we can take to have a better impact on our environment. But that’s not the reality. There are many things we need in our everyday lives, and the consumable that we need the most is food—to nourish our minds and bodies. Good news is, there are many existing certifications that look out for people and the environment! This way we can say goodbye to greenwashing and hello to a better way of consuming. So let’s talk about three of my favourite ones— what they mean and how we can better our world and health by understanding labels and terms a little better.
Fair Trade was one of the first certifications (if not the first) that prioritized people and the environment with its main goal to give agency to the people working at the grassroots level—the farmers. Fair trade has developed a lot over the years, and today, has a set of standards that align with the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals. “The purpose of Fair Trade is to act as an instrument or vehicle to mature the conscience… Fair trade will help the poor until everyone has become fully aware of reality” -Francisco Van der Hoff Boersma, Co-Founder of Fair Trade (2010). By buying Fair Trade, this is what you are supporting:
I’m sure most of you are very familiar with what organic means, but I still want to touch on it as it really is an awesome way to take care of our planet. Organic doesn’t necessarily mean “no spray” but rather the use of natural fertilizers, and natural ways of farming. Being certified organic is a big process. That is why many farmers may just call themselves no-spray, as it avoids the paperwork and frequent check-ins with officials. Organic certified farms must meet strict standards to ensure the food that is being grown really is naturally produced—to protect the health of people and the environment. This means they even have to take into account any use of inorganic fertilizers and pesticides used in the past as well as any runoff (the use of pesticides being blown airborne landing on another farmer's land).
Direct Trade is one of my favourites. Since I am a huge fan of farmers markets and relationship building, it really hits home for me. It aligns best with the original goals of Fair Trade (since they started out so small), but rather than it acting as a co-op, it is literally a direct one on one trade from the farmer to the seller. This means that they are surpassing a whole lot of middlemen, and therefore are more capable to build a closer relationship. You can find the best unique quality products within Direct Trade. Direct Trade is used for smaller scale businesses, usually with products such as coffee, chocolate and tea. From my perspective its long term benefit is to have clear, constant, and friendly communication between the farm workers, and the buyer of the product. This means that they can work together to adjust the quality and variety of the product. Most Direct Trade products do not have a certification label; however, if a product is being advertised as so, most places will be happy to talk to you about their products and methods farmers use on the land itself.
There are a lot of certifications out there. And these are just a few that make a difference. Environmental sustainability is a process. We are able to make a difference one step at a time. Like I highlighted in the last article, it all starts from within. We must remember to slow down, take a deep breath and acknowledge the moment. Think about the moment. And the next time when you’re out shopping, you’ll think more about the process of how it was made. Then you will vote with your dollar.
Observe, think and take your time.