Or is it…?

‘Eco’, ‘organic’, ‘natural’, ‘carbon footprint’, ‘sustainable’, ‘green’ – these are all frequently used buzzwords to describe products or services that are good for the environment in one way or another. Perhaps they’re plastic free, made from natural ingredients or materials, or perhaps they have a zero carbon footprint and are not contributing to climate change. Or perhaps, they’re saying these things but aren’t really – otherwise known as greenwashing.

Greenwashing is defined as:

behaviour or activities that make people believe that a company is doing more to protect the environment than it really is

In other words, just because a company claims that it’s product or service is ‘green’ or ‘eco friendly’, that doesn’t necessarily mean you should take their word for it. There are many businesses out there that use the above buzzwords and we think these fall into three categories:

Six Squeeky life bottles on worktop.

1. Those companies that are genuinely ‘green’, whose products/services will stand up to scrutiny and are truly plastic free, made from sustainable materials or ingredients, don’t use any harmful chemicals and are cruelty free (mentioning no names, ahem…)

2. Those companies that are typically not known for producing eco-friendly products, or claim to be ‘green’, but have a large customer base and can afford to break into the market by launching a product or product range that does tick some of the above boxes. So the company themselves is not really an eco business but they’re using their position to try and produce alternatives. An example of this is L’Oreal, who launched a range of plastic-free shampoo bars in November 2020. They are packaged in 100% recyclable FSC certified cardboard and contain 94% plant based ingredients. According to a study of the life-cycle of the shampoo bar, their environmental impact is 25% less than a traditional liquid shampoo. Although it’s not perfect, it’s a step in the right direction.

3. Those companies that have marketed themselves as a genuinely ‘green’ company, seem to be doing all the right things, but when you get down to the nitty gritty you realise that they aren’t as committed to saving the planet as it first appeared. It’s been in the news and social media lately but we’re going to go there again – Faith In Nature.

Faith In Nature market themselves as ‘natural’, ‘organic’ and ‘ethical’ and even their very name would suggest that their products are wholly natural. Delving deeper though, one of the ingredients they use is Polysorbate 20 – this is a detergent and an emulsifier, used to help water and oil mix and is not a certified organic ingredient. A study by the Soil Association states that ‘We are not suggesting that the inclusion of any of these ingredients in the products listed means that they are not safe for use in the products where we found them. However, we do think it could be misleading to include these ingredients in products which claim to be organic, when they would not be permitted in an organically certified product.

Another concern is that they use palm oil in their products. Faith In Nature have said that they don’t directly use palm oil in their products, rather some of the ingredients they use are manufactured using palm oil as the base – to us this just sounds a little like passing the buck – and that those ingredients that are derived from palm oil are sourced from sustainable and certified palm oil plantations. Ethical Consumer have rated them in the middle for their palm oil policies so they’re not the worst of the worst – but there is no need to use palm oil or derivatives – plenty of suppliers produce shampoo and other hair and skincare products without it.

We also hear from some of the shops that supply them, that where they have previously taken back their containers to wash and reuse, they are now grinding these down to be recycled. They’re still claiming this is a ‘closed loop’ system and that by doing this they are not ‘adding any virgin plastic to the supply chain’ but we think this sounds like a cost-cutting exercise. Plastic can only be recycled a handful of times before it is no longer usable and at this point it either has to go to landfill or virgin plastic needs to be added to prolong its life – so reusing seems like the much more environmentally sound option.

What really bugs us though? They’ve made their name through supplying to small independents, who have supported their business model of refills and pushed their products, but they’re now selling to B&M who are selling their products at a fraction of the price (and refills are not available, so where are all those plastic bottles going to go?) Smaller independent shops can’t compete with those prices – we understand that wholesale works on economies of scale but when we at Squeeky Shop and other small retailers would have to sell products for £5 or £6 to make it worthwhile, it’s demoralising to see that B&M are advertising prices starting at £1.99! We aren’t against brands expanding into mainstream retailers – we’d certainly love it if one of the big supermarkets came knocking for our products – but we wouldn’t do it at the expense of those that have supported us on our journey so far.

Faith In Nature are probably still one of the better options, environmentally, if you’re purchasing from somewhere where their refill is not an option, but it just doesn’t sit well with us that they’re making a lot of claims about caring about the environment that don’t really hold up under scrutiny AND they’ve thrown the little guys under the bus.