The Unsuitablog

Exposing Ethical Hypocrites Everywhere!

Holland And Barrett: Healthy Doesn’t Mean Green

Posted by keith on June 11th, 2008

Holland and Barrett

I like to keep fit and healthy. Much of my day is spent walking, running, keeping busy around the house and, of course, eating a healthy diet. I could, if I wanted to get some exercise, drive to my nearest gym (about 2 miles away) and walk for four miles on the treadmill, then drive back again — or I could walk to the gym and walk back again without ever setting foot in the gym: both would be about equal in terms of fitness.

“But surely,” I purport to hear you cry, “it’s not environmentally friendly to drive to the gym?” That’s not the point — I only said that if I wanted to get some exercise then I could drive to the gym. True, you will find that people who live a life more connected with nature do tend to enjoy good health for longer than those who don’t, but that is confusing “health” with “environment”, as civilization likes to portray the terms. A “health food shop” is not a “green shop”, however green the signs may be and however caring the clientel are.

Holland and Barrett, the largest Health Food retail chain in the UK, as well as being big in the Netherlands and Ireland, are trying to make their customers equate the two in a most confusing way. I walked into my local store this week to buy some dried pulses and fruit for the cupboard (dried stuff lasts for a lot longer and takes a lot less energy to transport) and noticed a big poster next to the door. It was advertising Holland and Barrett’s “Plan-it Green” campaign which, on the surface seems like a set of sensible measures to lower the store’s environmental impact.

I read the poster and my face dropped. There were seven points in all, five of which had almost nothing to do with being “green” (apart from the colour of the lettering):

– No hydrogenated fats (This usually implies the use of palm oil, which is not green at all)
– No artificial colours or flavours (Many natural colours and flavours are unsustainably produced)
– No nasty E-numbers (E- numbers are simply a European classification of additives, natural or artificial. And what’s with this subjective “nasty”?)
– No over refined ingredients (This is so vague it means nothing)
– We aim to source our ingredients sustainably (“Aiming” for something does not mean it has happened)

The manager gave me the head office phone number, but then I thought, if a company has gone to such lengths to produce posters purporting to be “green” when they are nothing of the sort, why should I give them a chance to defend themselves? The posters are in hundreds of stores all round the UK, being read by tens of thousands of customers every day — that’s greenwash!

3 Responses to “Holland And Barrett: Healthy Doesn’t Mean Green”

  1. Claude Says:

    Hi Keith,
    BTW, like your blog.

    What is your favorite health food/supplement chain in the UK?


    [I don’t need to take any supplements or specific “health” foods because I have a healthy diet and look after myself — we can all do that without the need to put extra things in our mouths. The biggest problem with “health food” stores (online or otherwise) is that they push things that we really don’t needs: in effect they are offsetting the terrible lifestyles the system has given us, rather than saying, “actually, just have a healthy diet, you don’t need all this extra junk”.


  2. Damo Says:

    Hi Keith,

    I’d agree with some of your posts and not with others… but I think that ranting nature of them is whats grating on me and prompted this post.

    I do agree that H&B’s Plan-It Green reeks of greenwash, but as I supply them with some things I know that they are now asking suppliers to implement greener practices. They are not able to guarantee that but they are not a police force… I can’t see anything wrong with corporations starting to get to grips with corporate responsibility even if they can’t quite get their heads round the fact that is must be more than marketing hype… I’d encourage it rather than be disparaging.

    No offense mate, but if you can constructively work with corporates to improve them, you will do more good than being a pious critic. Because I think this sour talk is unproductive for everyone concerned and verges on an inverted bigotry that actualy switches most people off.

    I do hope if you are really on a mission against ethical hyprocrisy you will not delete this post! In fact I’d like to know how you think we who care about things other than just the money and power can influence the corporates rather than just grumbling about it.

  3. keith Says:

    Hi Damo – ranting and piousness it may seem to you, but when you look into the belly of the beast it’s hard not to get angry at the greenwashing crap that is spouted left, right and centre. I would be grateful for a comment about the five points I raised, from a supplier’s point of view: I am struggling to find any way H&B can justify the claims they are “green” when they have no intention of affecting their bottom line to do it. And they also claim to be ethical, while stocking goods produced in Burma!

    I am sure you can work with corporates to improve them, but when the corporate world is hellbent on global domination through the barrel of a gun, or the handle of a clearfeller, or the wheel of a bottom-trawler, then “improvement” is easy. Sustainability for a corporation, on the other hand, is impossible.


Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.