Posted by keith on July 19th, 2010
It’s always good to refresh your skills, and that opportunity came to me a couple of days ago when a reader sent me a nice example of subtle but very detailed greenwashing in the shape of Redleaf Bottled Water. Straight away the shields are up because we are talking about an entirely commercial product, as opposed to something that in very many parts of the world is either provided as a perfectly drinkable service with relatively low charges, or available naturally for free.
I’m sure almost everyone reading this does, from time to time, find themselves in the situation where they are forced to buy a bottle of water, there not being any other source available (in my case it’s basically when the bottle is in too bad a state to be refilled with tap water). I’m also sure that most people reading this would balk at describing commercial bottled water as “environmentally friendly”, yet go to the Environment page of the Redleaf web site and we hit this interesting statement:
At redleaf, we believe in making the world a better place, one sip at a time. We take our responsibility to the earth and our community very seriously and we’ve developed business practices and a production process that minimizes the impact we have on both. Not only do we source our water from a naturally renewable artesian aquifer but we also bottle at a ratio of 1:1 so that not a drop of water is wasted. These are just two of the reasons we think redleaf is the world’s most environmentally friendly water.
The opening sentence makes me a bit sick in my mouth, to be quite honest – replace the word “redleaf” with “BP” and “sip” with “slick” and you can see my point: now I’m not saying that Redleaf are necessarily as bad as BP, but bottling, transporting and selling water is not a good thing. It can’t be, so why suggest so?
Then we get into the main blurb and the greenwash words stack up: “naturally”, “artisan”, “renewable”, topped off with “not a drop is wasted”. Are you quite sure about that? What about the water used in the manufacture of the aquifer tapping equipment, or the production of the bottles, or the extraction of the oil to power the transportation of the end product? The company may claim to reduce the impact of all these aspects, but to make the claim that “not a drop is wasted” is just plain lying.
What we get at the end is the classic “comparative statement”, analagous to the car manufacturer that claims model x is more economical than model y, or the energy company that claim their coal-fired power stations are more efficient than all the other (coal) energy companies. Redleaf, again, may well produce the world’s most environmentally friendly water, but…hang on, that’s a complete load of bollocks!
Go back to the statement I made at the start: we are talking about an entirely commercial product, as opposed to something that in very many parts of the world is either provided as a perfectly drinkable service with relatively low charges, or available naturally for free. I am pretty lucky to have a river close to my house but, regardless of this good fortune, I can unequivocally say that filling my hands with river water then transferring it to my mouth is a damn site more environmentally friendly than any bottled water.
Interestingly, when you look at the Environment page, the claims do – at first glance – seem to be subtle, modest even; but take a closer look with open eyes and the greenwash really does pour off the pages. For instance, I’m not sure how it is possible that “no chemicals are used in [the] bottling process” given that absolutely everything is made from chemicals, but such mealy-mouthed statements are so easy to drop into the mix to convince the reader that so-called Ultra-Premium Water really is something special.
It would be good to open this up to you all: take a look at this page and tell readers of The Unsuitablog what greenwash you can see, in the comments section below. When I have a few comments then I’ll send the link off to the company…or maybe they would like to comment themselves, after all, they are the ones doing the greenwashing.