Faux-Naturel: Chatting Greenwashing and Eco-Buzzwords with Soil Association
At OHNE, we’ve been on a mission to educate as many people as we can about our passions: periods, period poverty, sexual health, and the importance of going eco – however you can, as much as you can. What do the words ‘period poverty’, ‘sexual health’, ‘eco-friendly’, ‘organic’, etc,. all have in common? Well, they’re all buzzwords you’ll have heard bandied about the internet a thousand times. From the latest wellbeing brand making parasite-busting avocado and quinoa smoothies (okay I don’t have a link for this because, to my knowledge, it doesn’t exist. But if anyone’s feeling entrepreneurial, the idea is all yours…) to every beauty blogger on Instagram suddenly championing a different period poverty campaign, it’s easy to feel a little lost in the noise.
We’re of the opinion that there’s absolutely no shame in the things you don’t know – and we’re never going to judge anyone who’s just doing the best they can for themselves or the planet. But we want to help you get there.
How can you possibly know which brand is actually organic, when suddenly every chocolate bar and kitchen appliance you go to buy has packaging covered in green leaves and the word ‘natural’ plastered all over it? Well, it turns out there are actual certifying bodies such as Soil Association which are working to separate the great from the greenwashing… and we should know, we’re one of them.
We got in touch with Sophie Williams of Soil Association to chat about the importance of organisations such as theirs, the shift in cultural attitudes in favour of organic products and brands, and some tips and tricks as to how we can all be more discerning when it comes to buying organically…
For anyone who’s never heard of Soil Association before, how would you describe the organisation and the work you do?
To put it simply, we’re a charity and certification body within the organic movement.
We lobby for change across a range of subjects, such as climate change, animal welfare, greenwashing in the beauty industry and pesticide use. We work with farmers, brands and suppliers to create a more sustainable system that aims to improve the health of the planet and people.
Alongside the charity, the certification subsidiary’s goal is to grow the organic. We’re doing this by certifying new products and brands, as well as finding new entries to market and looking at new innovations and technologies. We’re undertaking a lot of work around consumer awareness and looking at the entire supply chain, ensuring transparency, integrity and quality for all.
Tell us a little bit about the team you work with – it must be great to work among so many people who share your passions and are all focused on the same mission!
The Soil Association spans across several sectors, including forestry, food, farming, fashion and beauty – to name a few. There are a wide variety of teams and it’s motivating to see so many people working towards the same goal, and their enthusiasm and passion shine through their work.
There’s a wealth of knowledge across the organisation and I learn something new each day. Lee, the human encyclopaedia, has a wealth of knowledge of the organic sector and public speaking; Frankie, our digital guru, always amazes me with her skills in social media and content creation; Jess, the Adobe whizz, is an expert when it comes to design and copywriting. There are so many other inspiring members of the team and each play an important role in achieving the overall goal of growing the organic market.
What does it mean for a brand or product to be Soil Association certified? How do brands go about becoming certified?
Soil Association Certification is an independent body and has a rigorous certification process. We pride ourselves on setting high standards within our sector.
Brands undergoing certification first need to apply online. From there, we review the entire manufacturing process, including sourcing of ingredients, formulation procedures and premises, as well as packaging. To ensure products are created in the most sustainable and environmentally sound way, companies supply us with their energy and water usage information and environmental waste management plans. We also review their marketing messages for consumer clarity.
Once a brand or business has passed the certification process, they’re given the ‘stamp of approval’ to use our symbol across their branding. We inspect annually to ensure the certified products still meet the standards.
Soil Association has certified some amazing brands – OHNE is proud to be counted among them. Spotlight a couple of your favourites that you’ve come across while working for SA for our followers to keep an eye out for!
There are so many brands entering the sector that are innovating within the market, it’s hard to choose just one! It may be a cop out, but I highly recommend heading to our organic beauty and wellbeing directory to find out more about some of them.
What changes would you encourage people to try to make in their day-to-day lives in order to live a little more organically and reduce their impact on the environment?
Making the switch to organic might feel daunting, but it’s easier than you think. By switching to one item, you’re contributing to a more sustainable system – for the better, protecting the planet, better for workers and independent businesses as well as high animal welfare. You’d be surprised how many items in your fridge or on your bathroom shelf are organic. Staples such as milk, tea and even stock cubes can be organic, and you may already be using them without realising. Stick to the staples – a small change can make a huge difference.
At OHNE, we like to say that if you wouldn’t put it in your mouth, don’t put it in your vagina. Because, while people are becoming more and more conscious of the health and environmental implications of the food they eat, this thinking doesn’t often extend to thinking about things like toxic period products and menstrual health, sexual health, or other toiletries and hygiene products. Do you wish more people were aware of the need to go organic with all the products they’re consuming, not just the ones they’re eating? Do you think this is gradually improving?
In the short time I’ve worked at the Soil Association, I can see that attitudes are changing. It’s encouraging to see people becoming more aware of the effects their lifestyle is having on the planet. From using reusable coffee cups and water bottles to buying second hand clothing – change is happening.
It’s still concerning that people are unaware of the effects our menstrual and skincare products can have on our body. However, 2018 has seen a surge of press and awareness campaigns about menstrual products, such as the amount of plastic used in the product, as well as controversial ingredients like Dioxine. Having these open and honest conversations, as well as presenting ethical alternatives, are positive for de-stigmatising periods.
There’s been a rising interest in natural and organic beauty products as people are slowly coming to the realisation that what we put on our body is just as important as what we put in our body. Unfortunately, the terms ‘organic’ and ‘natural’ aren’t regulated in the beauty industry, like it is for food. This means that companies can use as little as 1% organic ingredients and claim that a product is organic (also known as greenwashing). Look for an accredited symbol such as Soil Association, GOTS and COSMOS to ensure that what you’re buying is genuinely organic. You as a customer have the purchasing power, so purchase with power!
Living a 100% organic lifestyle can be difficult. Here at the Soil Association, we encourage everyone to make simple swaps and to consume consciously. Ask questions and look for the logo, enabling you to make informed choices.
Massive thank you to Soil Association, and to Sophie Williams in particular, for taking the time to chat with us about the importance of certified organic products.
All images courtesy of Soil Association
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