Being organic isn’t as clear-cut or easy as you’d think. For some, that uncertainty can be surprising. After all, there are organic standards set by the USDA and administered by state and private agencies. There are three exacting levels of certification. Being certain about organic should be simple and transparent.
Not So Fast
And it would be simple if everyone played by the rules. But they don’t. For those who do – like us – complying with standards for certification can be time-consuming and expensive.
For those who choose not to play by the rules, there are any number of ways to profit from simply looking organic. Including organic in a company name, or in the name of the product itself is simple and inexpensive. Using the words “herbal” and “essentials” does the same thing, as does packaging and labeling products in natural greens and declaring them paraben-free. Marketing strategies intended to present companies and products as more environmentally friendly than they really are is called greenwashing.
Organic by Association – Marketing Works
As consumers, we do our best to understand what we’re buying. But our best is sometimes hurried and we find ourselves relying on marketing to make choices. If we’re trying to avoid mass-produced shampoos made of nothing but synthetics, it can sometimes be enough that the one we’re looking at is free of parabens and dyes and contains actual olive oil. t’s the impulse that gets us. And marketers know that. We might not be buying the purest of soaps or shampoos, but we’re closer. Or at least the merchandising makes it seem that way. Marketers also know that consumers tend to trust products on the shelves, assuming 1) manufacturers wouldn’t sell us something they know is harmful; and 2) we have government agencies looking out for us in case something harmful sneaks through the system.
Just a Reminder That Corporate Marketing Is Never Science
Corporate marketing also makes a habit of claiming to have science on its side as a way of countering criticisms that personal-care products aren’t safe to use. The Organic Center makes it their mission to assert and remind us that science is science, meaning it’s not whatever corporations say it is, and it’s certainly not corporate marketing. The Organic Center also has a very good article debunking criticisms of organic products that appeared – based on selective research and corporate influence – in the Washington Post.
Lobbying Works, Too
For the makers of mass-produced body-care products – often no more than detergents for the skin and hair – being nearly organic, or appearing that way, would be easier if the standards themselves weren’t so demanding. Just as it would be easier for large-scale organic milk producers to be able to confine more cows in a small place – contrary to standards – it would also be easier if more synthetics were allowed in organic skincare products.
Which is exactly what’s happening now. Manufacturers and trade associations are continually lobbying the USDA, operating on a very simple principle: lowering the standards makes them easier to meet. This would be greenbashing (making environmentally conscious living seem negative and indulgent) if it weren’t so sneaky and jealous. Lowering standards is the perfect way to appear to meet the letter of the rules without living up to their spirit. It diminishes the stature of organic in general.