Don’t drink the crap around greywater
“Have you seen any good examples of greenwash lately? It seems to have died down hasn’t it?”
This question was put to me by a newspaper journalist recently.
That’s the thing with greenwash, it’s hard to spot if you don’t know what you’re looking for. Greenwash is a term given to marketing claims that suggest a product or company is more environmentally friendly than it actually is. The Trade Practices Act forbids misleading claims. But it’s sometimes difficult for investigators to spot, let alone consumers. That’s the problem.
Many green claims lack standards and verification behind them. At present, wannabe eco-consumers risk being duped and paying a premium for products that don’t deliver the claimed environmental benefits.
Take water. We’re a pretty water-conscious mob in Australia. For years we’ve seen government ad campaigns urging us not to waste a precious drop. We’ve been hit with rising domestic water costs. We’ve watched dam levels drop. We’ve taken up the cause by buying more efficient showerheads, washing machines and dual-flush loos. Water restrictions tell us when and how we can water our gardens.
Recently CHOICE found 11% of members surveyed reuse water from their washing machines as greywater on their garden.
And in our latest test of concentrated laundry powders we were pleased to list two products as ‘green buys’. Not only did they remove dirt and stains really well and were reasonably priced, they also met our environmental criteria.
Many laundry detergents claim they are ‘greywater safe’. In this particular test, nearly all products making this claim really were ‘greywater safe’. But one rotten apple spoilt the barrel…
Seventh Generation’s Natural Laundry Powder claims to be ‘safe for septic and greywater systems’ yet CHOICE’s test shows it’s not suitable for use on gardens.
The problem is that, according to its website, Seventh Generation neglects to measure total salinity, a key criteria for determining the suitability of water quality for greywater use. I’m going to take a punt and say the average consumer – that the law is supposed to protect – won’t know to look for this, or be able to check this claim. And frankly, they shouldn’t have to.
Consumers need better protection from greenwash. The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission’s 2008 guidance on environmental claims was a good start, but hasn’t solved the problem.
We need a compulsory standard to guide manufacturers who want to make environmental claims like ‘greywater safe’.
From January 2010 a new Environmental Claims Code will guide advertising claims. The Code won’t cover claims made on packaging, where green claims bombard consumers. It also doesn’t get into specific requirements for technical claims such as greywater safe and carbon neutral. Plus, this is an advertising industry self-regulated code and the Gruen Transfer taught us to be cynical of these guys.
So the short answer to the question put to me by the journalist is yes. I have seen greenwash lately. Not much has changed.
Kate Norris is the Senior Sustainability Policy Officer at CHOICE. www.choice.com.au/campaigns
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