Why Consumers Must Start Demanding Transparency From Manufacturers and Retailers
Natural. Green. Eco-friendly. We’ve all heard these buzzy, sustainability-centered words, and many — in fact, most — of us want to lessen the impact of our spending habits on the planet. It’s hard, however, to take tangible action with so little information available about the products we buy and bring into our homes. To enable and empower the informed buying decisions modern consumers want to make, we must demand transparency surrounding companies’ products, services and processes. Knowledge is power, and only once we lift the veil of greenwashed branding can we truly determine if a product is safe, sustainable and healthy, and where to shift our spending habits for the better.
Driven by consumer demand, corporations around the world have worked to become more sustainable, or so they claim. As greenwashing grows increasingly ubiquitous within the marketplace, the best antidote to such misinformation is for companies selling "sustainable" products to disclose more accurate and comprehensive information about a product’s life stages in production — from the sourcing, manufacturing and shipping to the performance and final stage of life. Without such disclosure, companies serve to further confuse consumers by diluting the eco-friendly marketplace with the retail equivalent of catfishing. Luckily for consumers, "sustainable" claims can (and should) be backed by evidence.
We’re not going to save the planet one sustainable throw pillow at a time, though I wish it were that easy. However, by demanding disclosure of important product information, consumers will have more agency. Agency to make informed decisions on choices that can have health implications for not only the planet, but consumers themselves. While the impetus for many sustainably minded consumers is this concern for the planet, the reality is that it has survived trauma long before our arrival, and will likely survive our destructive habits. The question is, will we?
One way in which we're harming ourselves and the planet is in the many off-gassing products that fill our homes with a soup of chemicals that weren't designed to live together in one space. These chemicals can have harmful reactions and some are even designed to mask such harmful reactions with even more chemicals. Prolonged exposure to such off-gassing can result in headaches, respiratory illnesses, hormone disruption, and a variety of cancers (pro tip: if you can smell a product, there may be an issue). Disclosure of the harmful ingredients guilty of such off-gassing may be hard to come by, but consumers have the power to declare that what is bad for them is bad for business.
Conscious consumers clearly have the power to bring sustainability to the top of corporate agendas. The issue thus far, however, has been ensuring that the "sustainable" products being delivered aren't simply a marketing ploy. To combat greenwashing and usher in transparency as the standard for sustainable products, conscious consumers must wield their collective power by supporting the companies willing to disclose their product information. The collective power of these consumers is growing and only getting stronger.
As IBM’s 2020 consumer report found, nearly six in 10 respondents were willing to change their purchasing habits to help reduce negative environmental impacts, and among those who say sustainability is important for them, 71 percent are willing to pay a premium for brands providing traceability and transparency. It's high time conscious consumers recognize the majority they hold in the marketplace and their ability to demand change. Because through consumer demand, the market for sustainable products is booming, and only through continued pressure does this market stand any chance at legitimacy — legitimacy earned through transparency.
Ellen Strickland is the chief sustainability officer for Shades of Green, a sustainable shopping platform that simultaneously educates customers on the best eco-friendly practices and quality products available.
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Ellen Strickland is considered a pioneer in helping consumers make product choices to improve how they live. She brings 40 years of experience in design, sustainable living, and strategic business development to the Shades of Green Group. Beginning in 1999, Ellen created and ran several educational retail centers in Southern California to promote and sell healthy green products and materials. Beyond deep, healthy, green product knowledge, Ellen has shirtsleeves retail operations experience, as well as understanding the importance of educational programming to attract and retain consumers looking to live a healthier and sustainable lifestyle.
From her early days bringing environmentally-sound thinking and design to museums, aquariums and natural history centers, to her intense focus on residential homes and healthier environments, she has made a career of helping all of us live in a more healthy and sustainable manner. Ellen created the Shades of Green Evaluation System that has been in use since 2000, enabling consumers to be confident about the product choices they make in fostering a healthier, more sustainable planet.