Are Food and Retail Behemoths Responsible For Greenwashing?


A few days ago we looked at the Consumer Conundrum of Greenwashing and how to use your right to bear arms of knowledge during the Information Age. Yet some companies claim innocence due to ignorance or lack of guidance. Among the top offenders lay the food and retail industries. Filled with behemoth corporations, these industries are led by companies that are either so removed from their supply chain that they claim innocence or so controlling of the supply chain that they control accurate information and regulation.

Food Industry is Control-ling
In the food industry, you will find a handful of companies that control nearly everything. Agribusinesses bought up America’s farmland after the 1970s farm crisis and still own the vast majority of land. Who knew Farmer’s Markets represented a precious minority of either diehard farmers or newbies that want to create a different system (of course a few agribusiness farmers are there too). Keep in mind that the farmers that grow the very crops we depend on (read corn and soy which have infiltrated a great many consumer products) have little to no control over land that used to be theirs, they are simply leasing it to make a living. So who is making ludicrous claims like “Safe-Hen Cage Farming”? Agribusinesses eager to cash in on the eco-friendly train.

The mechanization and monoculture that runs rampant throughout the agribusiness sector is exactly what distances it from its true agricultural roots. The roots that help determine the strain on the land, healthy crop rotations, sustainable animal operations, and the impact of extensive chemicals and fertilizers. This degree of separation from the natural limits of the land and their operations has led to skewed regulation and agribusiness-favorable, not farming-favorable, legislation and production. With so much control over the industry, the information the public is fed is limited and carefully constructed. Perhaps not the best source for credible information and research.

Retail Industry is Un-controlled
In retail we find a different story. Big Box stores run the Land of the Free these days, with Wal-Marts popping up and shutting down local businesses for most of my adolescent and adult life. These stores’ supply chains include hundreds if not tens of thousands of companies. Each of these companies is merely a component of production from shipping to manufacturing to storage. This winter’s Bamboo Scandal, in which many companies cashing in on the Bamboo and Sustainability craze were caught selling Rayon, not Bamboo, led to the big box stores claiming ignorance. If they don’t know what’s in the products they feel comfortable selling to us, we have a serious problem with accountability. This is the same argument companies have used regarding sweatshops, child labor, toxic exposure to chemicals in the electronics industry, and the use of the term “organic” prior to regulation. Ignorance.

These companies are not ignorant at all. They are part of an incredibly diluted global supply chain that makes it difficult to track the social and ecological impacts of the products they sell. Don’t start sympathizing with them quite yet. This is a system that they have decided to willingly participate in, and in most cases, help create. The simplified goal of this system is to utilize the cheapest labor and materials to produce the cheapest desirable product and sell it at a reasonable yet significantly profitable rate. This dilution and “ignorance” is in fact part of their business model. They are choosing to source their labor and materials from parts of the World with corrupt governments, poor factory management, and most importantly cheap labor. Their choice leaves you with one of your own, should you still support this system?

Synthetic Ingredients, Synthetic Authenticity

Similar to the food industry, synthetic additives and the like are running the show these days. Mechanizing and simulating things that don’t actually need to be simulated. This type of un-natural production creates a large misunderstanding in scarcity and abundance, which is what the neo-liberal classical economics that run our market society rely upon as an indicator. So we push the land, animals, and one another to extents that a natural market would not allow based on simple productivity, supply/demand, and scarcity/abundance. This skewed view fails to value what we truly do find important, if not essential, to leading a good and healthy life including a safe environment, a strong social fabric, and a healthy work/life balance. If the valuation system of these two behemoth industries is a bit off, do we trust that their marketing claims will be spot on?

Perhaps the age of the Enlightened Consumer is upon us, and with that hopefully the more genuine advent of the corporations. I am in favor of hope with caution in this case. For now, I will keep up to date on their “going ons” but keep my dollars for more localized, credible, and authentic places. And yes, I personally will still hold them accountable for being true to the real definitions of sustainability as opposed to a more favorable version a company may create.

What do you think? Are they accountable for their greenwashing?

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  1. Green retailing is a positive thing. And if the only way the planet can get green is through government coercion or fad exploitation, then so be it. The retail industry should be concerned, however, with how long the public will be fooled by those retailers who are passing out green-colored glasses with one hand and reaching into shoppers’ wallets with the other hand to finance their own green image. Not long enough, I predict. Because already “retailers who care about something besides money” is starting to be the new “green.”

  2. Agree with the comment above. Government enforcement has to be positive. Only then retailers will do something about it.

  3. Interesting news on this from the Sustainable Brands Conference, the EPA would like to start to become the ultimate eco-certification body for companies in the US to start to be able to compete with Europe in the realm of healthy products.

    Encouraging and surprising news! They have quite a road to go down before getting there, but that type of leadership is definitely welcome.

  4. Synthetic should be more green like meaty vegetables or something. In that way, it’s still healthy for everyone to eat.

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