Ever seen a little card on the back of the toilet or on the sink in a hotel bathroom with the instructions to leave a towel on the rack if you don’t want it washed? That card claims that a certain amount of water will be saved if a certain percentage of guests reuse their towels. These cards are not new—in fact, environmental activist Jay Westerveld noticed some in the 1980s. He noted that the hotels didn’t seem to care too much about the environment. Also, by washing towels less, the hotels would save money. Westerveld wrote an essay about this, in which he coined the term “greenwashing.”
Whitewashing, as you might already know, is a technique used to paint buildings and fences. Through whitewashing, flaws are covered up. Greenwashing is similar in that companies make their products nice and “green” while hiding their flaws.
Sadly, many of the environmentalist movement’s words are getting taken over and put into popular use. Hearing people talk about products being “green” and “environmentally-friendly” is good, but what do they really mean? “Natural” is a term that can have essentially no meaning. Many chemicals found in nature are harmful and dangerous! If you are interested in doing the environmentally-conscious thing, keep the following in mind.
You don’t need expensive products to clean your apartment the green way—look online for simple and effective cleaners made from everyday household supplies. My family uses warm water with vinegar and dish soap to wash the floors. It works well and has no toxic chemicals in it as long as the dish soap is the truly natural sort. This cleaner has the added benefit of making the house smell like salt and vinegar potato chips. See http://eartheasy.com/live_nontoxic_solutions.htm/ for even more non-toxic cleaners made from basic household supplies.
Even foods can be greenwashed, or, as I like to think of it, “healthwashed.” A processed product may be better for you and the environment than a similarly processed product (example: cereal), but you could make your own oatmeal from organic oats for cheaper. Don’t like oatmeal? Cook it in milk/milk substitute instead of water and add sugar. Processed cereals contain a lot of sugar, so don’t feel too guilty about adding some sweetener!
Cooking your own food, if you live in an apartment, can be a great way to save money and eat healthier. Food that has been processed and put into bags, boxes, and other containers tend to be worse for the environment. The food is heated up, cooled, shipped from factory to factory, shipped to the store, and so forth; when you’re done, you will likely throw the packaging away.
Sometimes, you will still find yourself needing to buy a commercial product with green claims. If greenwashing is an issue to you, look for third-party certification. If you want to go a little more hard-core, learn what different types of certification means. Certainly, don’t rely on advertisements to give you the whole picture. Ads are, as always, about making the company and the product look as great as possible.