The greenwashing files Green gardening products
This article, The greenwashing files, was last updated on 28 April 2010 and is now out of date and held in our online archive for reference. Explore our latest Home & garden articles.
Unlike in the farming and food industries, there is no legal definition for the term ‘organic’ in relation to gardening products and no legal requirement for manufacturers to put their products through an organic certification scheme. So what do green claims made on gardening products mean? And is greenwash (misleading green marketing) an issue?
To find out, we bought 14 garden products, all of which made some kind of environmental claim on the packaging. We then asked Garden Organic, the UK’s leading organic gardening organisation, for its verdict on the claims. Here is its verdict on the slew of green claims we found on popular gardening products.
‘100% chemical free'
Garden Organic verdict: Our assumption is that this is meant to imply that the product contains no man-made synthetic ingredients. But a chemical substance is simply something with a specific chemical composition – such as water!
‘100% natural active ingredient’ and ‘Contains natural active ingredient’
Garden Organic verdict: This means that the active ingredient – ie the thing that kills the pest – has its origin in nature, though it may contain other non-natural materials.
‘Suitable for organic farming’
Garden Organic verdict: The claim on the packaging may well be true with regard to product ingredients, but a registered organic farmer couldn’t use this statement as a go-ahead for using it. For a product to be used on an organic farm it would have to be verified by a certification body.
Garden Organic verdict: This is a product range brand name, meant to imply that this range of products is suitable for those who want to garden organically. In our view, the instructions for use should also be in line with the principles of organic gardening; on at least one product we’ve looked at in this range, they’re not.
‘The natural and effective way to protect plants’
Garden Organic verdict: There’s nothing natural about extracting an ingredient from a plant and spraying it on others to kill them. Nor is there anything natural about putting a barrier around a plant against slugs.
‘Fights bugs the way nature does’
Garden Organic verdict: This means that the product is based on a natural ingredient – pyrethrum, say. But 'Nature' doesn’t go around spraying things! Nicotine is a natural insecticide, but it has been banned on health grounds.
‘Organic’ and ‘Organically’
Garden Organic verdict: ‘As there’s no legal definition of 'organic' for gardening products, the word can be used very loosely. And just because a product is of natural origin doesn’t mean that it’s suitable for use in an organic garden. Battery chicken manure may be labelled as 'organic' because it is of living origin, but Garden Organic would not consider it suitable for an organic garden because of the way the poultry is kept and fed.
‘Organic pest control MAPP 12799’ and ‘MAPP14639 PCS No 92403’
Garden Organic verdict:‘This statement has legal backing. A MAPP (Ministerial Approved Pesticide Product) number shows that a product has been approved to be sold, supplied, used, stored or advertised as a pesticide. The PCS number refers to registration in the Republic of Ireland. Approval holders must provide evidence that a product is 'safe and effective'. The phrase 'Organic Pest Control' would have been supplied by the company marketing the product, and has no legal status.’
How useful are organic logos?
We also asked Garden Organic to comment on the ‘organic’ logos on some of the products. It said: ‘The logos we looked at have all been produced and issued by the companies themselves. None were issued by any of the official organic certification bodies. A couple of the logos have an asterisk, linking them to a statement on the reverse of the packaging, that states which official organic standards were used by the company as a basis for making the organic claim, but there is no independent verification.
A company’s own organic logo is not illegal as gardening products are not covered by the EU Regulation for Organic Farming. However, in our view it could be misleading for customers.’
Green gardening tips and reviews
Our guide to eco labels can help you decipher green logos and symbols on product packaging. Our gardening section has our latest product reviews and recommendations, including Best Buy outdoor cleaners and composts.