Companies and their environmental commitment claims

Many big companies are suddenly riding the green wave, it’s great to see. But can you trust them? There’s a couple of simple things you can do to help get past the marketing hype.

How does an organization known for its destructive practices switch to becoming genuinely concerned about the environment overnight and for this green aspect to become the focal part of their operations so suddenly?

Sometimes these companies are sincere and have indeed made sweeping and radical changes for the better, but other times they’ve changed little or nothing at all – just overhyped one small area to cover up the continuing destruction in a multitude of others.

Don’t take their marketers word for it – ask them. Contact them via writing (email is very convenient) and probe their claims. Most major companies will have a consumer inquiry email address listed on their web sites.

I’m not suggesting a witch hunt, but if you really want to learn about the products you’re using, then you need to go beyond the promotional materials or the rumor mills and ask the company pointed questions.

I’ve been doing this lately with a few companies; for example in relation to chicken. The first test was a “free range chicken” producer. I politely asked a few questions which they answered bar one – and that question was pretty important. I kindly thanked them for their response and clarified my unanswered question in as simple terms as possible.

The silence was deafening.

In another chicken product related inquiry and a different company, I again politely asked about a certain ingredient they use plenty of and if it was being sourced from practices that involve destruction of Indonesian rainforests. Their first layer of customer service were very quick to respond, stating that they appreciated the question and it was being forwarded to their food services team for follow up.

The response from their food services team? There wasn’t any.

In both these instances, the lack of response indicated something very important – that likely my concerns were well founded, or at the very least the company had no idea.

The reason for the lack of response was that an email is a legal communication. If I had called via phone and the company had made untruthful claims, it would be a lot more difficult to prove they made them.
Once a business communication is in writing; it’s a whole different ball game. In some cases, particularly in relation to larger organizations, lawyers advise on how to handle specific consumer concerns and sometimes they will advise not to respond at all.

I haven’t stated the name of the example companies I contacted because as I mentioned, it’s not about a witch hunt in order to stir up a hornets nest (at this point anyway – I still have a lot of work to do on my own lifestyle first), but more about self-education.

Searching the web can also provide reams of information about a company’s practices, but always treat these reports with a grain of salt; carefully consider the source of that information before forming a solid opinion. Go directly to the company about issues that have been raised and see what they have to say – just be alert for corporate-speak in their replies ;). If they can’t answer you definitively, something’s up.

The other important side effect of myriads of consumers writing to companies about environmental concerns is that enough of us do it for long enough, it will force them to recognize that greening their operations isn’t just a good marketing angle to address a current fad or some type of minimum commitment they can make to boost sales. With enough pressure, they’ll come to realize it’s critical to their long-term survival that “green” should be the centerpiece of operations.