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Greenwashing: products that dont live up to the label

Posted by Anna Carlini on 29 March 2017 at 4:40 pm

Here at YouGen we love products that are environmentally friendly, and use less energy. But we do expect them to live up to expectations. We have a problem with products that do not match what they promise on the tin. We’ve covered cases where products are misleadingly advertised in our blog on “greenwashing”. But what about cases where the products themselves let you down? Unfortunately, some products just don't seem to be able to live up to their promises.

This can be illustrated by a recent event, when we at the YouGen office suffered from this very problem…

We bought an eco-kettle. This was intended to save energy by boiling only the amount of water that you needed. There was a separate chamber to fill if you only wanted to boil enough for one cup. This is a great idea… if you remember about it. The problem was that we were repeatedly overfilling the ‘boiling chamber’ and this caused it to break far more quickly than it should have done.

Undaunted we plugged in a second kettle of the same model. This also broke, as did the third. It was only after the demise of the fourth kettle that we decided that this really wasn’t working. We’d had good intentions with our eco-kettle, but repeatedly replacing it wasn’t eco-friendly at all! We had gotten through so many kettles that any energy saved through only boiling what we needed was completely overshadowed by the total net-energy costs of the manufacturing, transporting and packaging of four of them! Despite the company’s best intentions, it was a product that did not work for us and did not save us any energy.

Another example was the eco-button, a craze that swept through several companies back in 2008. This is a physical button that you connect to your PC using a USB port. When you are going to be away from your desk for a few minutes, for a meeting or while getting a cup of tea, you press the button and the computer goes into an energy saving mode.

A great many office users diligently pressed the button when away from the screen but they didn’t really know what it did. Unfortunately a study by Which? Magazine found that the Eco-button does not put the computer into the most economical mode. Pressing the button puts it into “sleep” mode, rather than the more ecological “hibernate” mode. It did serve as a good visual reminder to save energy, but the way the product itself worked could have saved a lot more energy. You can read the full Which? report here.

Another product that has caused consumers an environmental headache is the mobile solar charger. These promised a gadget which could charge a phones or tablets to a reasonable degree after a few hours of being sat in the sun. Unfortunately they have been a source of disappointment for a lot of the people. The capabilities of the chargers just aren’t up to the expectations of those who bought them.

A quick scan through reviews on Amazon reveal that customers frequently complain that solar chargers aren’t fast enough, and that it can be difficult to find the right angle in the sun. The root of this problem is the gap between expectations and reality. These solar cells of are in the £25-£35 price range, expensive for a charger, but at the low end of the market for portable solar panels. More reliable options are available, but typically cost £100 or more. The manufacturers of low end solar chargers naturally tout the benefits of their product. But this can mislead those who don’t extensively research the available options. Customers are led to expect the performance of a full sized photovoltaic panel from a small, transportable and relatively cheap product.

Doing your research before buying an eco-product can save you money, time and frustration in the long run. If a product does not do what you expected it to, then you may find that you just don’t use it. If it sits in a drawer then it is not saving you any energy. It’s just a waste of money.

And so, eco-friendly products are not always as eco-friendly as they seem. Be careful to use the product as directed, do your research before purchasing and be realistic with your expectations. Above all, be mindful of your behaviour with it. If it breaks too many times to be justified as eco-friendly, learn from our mistake and don’t buy it again!

Image: Eric Martin

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