"Natural ingredients" aren’t always environmentally friendly

One of the very confusing aspects of going green in relation to product purchases is the use of the term “natural” or “approved”. Just because something is natural, it doesn’t make it environmentally friendly.

In another article, I covered the issue of ” natural” not necessarily meaning safe for human consumption. 

A product using natural ingredients can be harmful to the wider environment too.

Here’s a rather extreme example:

Motor oil could be said to be made from natural ingredients. After all, non-synthetic motor oil comes from crude oil, which is a naturally occurring substance. However, the effects of oil spills can be devastating in an aquatic environment.

Another one: 

Coal is very natural – just dig it up and burn it – how natural is that? But the mining and burning of coal is environmentally destructive.

Mercury is natural, so is arsenic, uranium, lead and asbestos – but all these things can be harmful if released into the environment.

“Natural” is a marketing label not regulated by many governments. It has a nice ring to it, but means nothing.

Let’s look at some other examples in the products we purchase from the store.

I’ve noticed a trend in shampoos to have natural ingredients and some of these products sound more like fruit salads than stuff you would put on your hair. In looking up some of these ingredients, I haven’t been able to find any benefit in hair care applications. It’s just extra “stuff” we don’t need added to shampoos. It’s stuff that has to be made or extracted and in doing so, uses environmental resources.

I’ve seen soaps with a “natural ingredient” list that seems to go on forever. The soap I use has just 3 ingredients and works fine.

Another issue with some natural ingredients; particularly those from the wild, is the ingredient may be in short supply through over-harvesting. Our desire for the exotic has often pushed plants and animals to the brink of extinction – and beyond.

We need to be careful that we don’t start fooling ourselves that a product packed with natural ingredients is always a good thing for the environment. It’s still consumption and it’s back to the old wisdom of moderation in everything. These “natural” ingredients can also be used as a mask to distract our attention from what else is in the product; the synthetic chemicals.

My advice is don’t rely on “Made with natural ingredients” as any sort of recommendation on which to base an environmentally-related purchase decision – dig deeper to find out where those ingredients come from, what they do and if they have any benefit in the application – and what other ingredients accompany them. 

In terms of the “approved” ingredients issue – the big question is approved by whom and what are their interests in the approval? The environmental movement isn’t immune to sell-outs, some groups and organizations are more interested in the almighty buck than the planet. They usually use a justification of the “greater good”. 

Also bear in mind that some certifications are in-house certifications that may be very biased – a professional looking certification logo means nothing.

Even a government tick of approval isn’t something you can rely on 100%. Many of these agencies are behind the times and when an ingredient or component is found to be environmentally damaging, it can take years for the approval to be revoked while interested parties duke it out behind the scenes.

This certainly doesn’t mean to say that any product that uses terms like “natural” and “approved” is environmentally evil – it’s just a case of caveat emptor – “let the buyer beware”.

By researching products you buy rather than just accepting the marketing spin, you’ll not only lighten the load on the environment, but likely keep some of your hard earned cash in your pocket.