Greenwashing and the Veil of American Consumerism

As stated eloquently in the documentary Food Inc., the American food industry casts a veil over  the public perception of how our food and other products are grown, engineered, and transported for our consumption.  Although this veil may be comprehensible to individuals who are well informed on these common practices of the American food industry, most “green-washing” eludes the comprehension of even the most informed consumer.

To view an example green-washing relative to our lives in and around downtown Charleston,  I have decided to examine Harris Teeter, a popular grocery store to measure the presence of any green-washing in their public image.

As far as the local selection of grocery stores is concerned,  Harris Teeter sticks out as a popular, upscale supermarket with prime locations throughout the city (including the only grocery store with a close proximity to downtown).  While other local competitors like Earthfare and Whole Foods curb the market for green/organic shopping, Harris Teeters’ public image is one of diverse food choices, both conventional and organic, as well as a standard selection of common groceries that are easily attainable at any supermarket.  However, with this well-rounded image, there are still instances of green-washing the image of the chain as a whole:

In the article above, the EPA has recognized Harris Teeter for it sustainability practices by cutting the emissions output of its commercial services, transport, and refrigeration.  While this is a step forward for both the environment, as well as Harris Teeter’s image, many of the products they sell may tell a different story:

As cited by the World Wildlife Federation, Harris Teeter, along with many other grocery chains (including many other chains which have a local presence in Charleston) have received criticism for their carrying of toilet tissues which have led to the destruction of rain forests and other ecosystems which are home to many endangered species throughout the world.  While this revelation is certainly not limited to Harris Teeter alone, the manner in which they build a public image on certain environmental aspects while selling a product which does otherwise can be viewed with due criticism.  With this insight, it can be concluded that while many brands can be accused of green-washing individual products with misleading packaging and other perceived ecological benefits, the image of the business selling the products can be just as susceptible to these practices.

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