Last week I was in Northern Virginia meeting with one of our retail partners, Potomac River Running (PRR). For all you Atayners in the DC area, stay tuned for the launch of our fall line at PRR in mid-September. We have some great new features and many new POV graphics for our tops.
After meeting with Jeanette, their apparel buyer and a running friend of mine, I browsed through the store to see the latest and greatest in running gear. As I looked around, something immediately caught my eye in the women’s apparel section. It was a ladies green running top with the statement “running is renewable.” The quote was accompanied by a recycling symbol on the upper left chest. After I got through a brief moment of jealousy (why didn’t I think of that graphic), questions started to race through my head.
- “What company makes it?”
- “What is the fabric composition?”
- “How much does it cost?”
- “Where is it made?”
I immediately scuttled over there to check it out. I touched the fabric and it had a nice, soft feel. I could tell it was a cotton/polyester blend. Not necessarily designed for hard-core runners. I looked at the content label and saw 50% polyester/50% cotton. I continued onto the hangtag to see if there was any recycled material to support this bold environmental message. Nothing.
At this point, I started to get disappointed, mad, and I might even say, a little irate. In my mind this was clearly another case of greenwashing, the practice of companies disingenuously spinning their products and policies as environmentally friendly.
Since then, I have decided to take a step back. Maybe I am too close to the situation. Maybe my standards for a “green” or “sustainable” product are too high. Maybe I should ask others what they think. So here it goes. I have asked myself the following questions over and over again and would love to hear your thoughts.
- What classifies a product—apparel in particular—as “green” or “sustainable”? Any percentage of recycled or organic content? Over 50% recycled or organic content? 100% recycled or organic content?
- Is a product made in the USA considered sustainable? I was glad to see the above top was.
- Should an item that has a recycling symbol on it have recycled content or be recyclable?
- Do products like this create confusion among consumers? If you saw this shirt in a store, would you assume it was made from recycled materials?
- Is this a case of greenwashing?
Of course, I have an opinion and a very strong one. To quote Marshall McLuhan, “The medium is the message.” Translation: the material an environmental message is printed on is just as important as the message itself.
I see this as a perfect example of comedian Stephen Colbert’s poke at greenwashers, ”I believe in climate change for a very important reason: so I can market the new Colbert Report Green. It’s just like regular Colbert Report, except we reduce emissions by jumping on the bandwagon.”
As always, I would love to hear what others think– the good, the bad, or the ugly.