The Greenwash Brigade

Another "natural choice," this one from Hormel

Janne K. Flisrand Mar 12, 2010

I’m the Brigadier who doesn’t have a TV, so I’m always tromping around online to find the commercials we comment on. This week, however, I found the commercial on the screen at an Oscars party.

I hadn’t realized Hormel had a Natural Choice line of products, until I saw this commercial. I actually smacked my head with my palm, starting a greenwashing conversation with people who had never heard the term.

Normally, I’d let this slide – we’ve already discussed the meaninglessness of “natural.” But this time, it’s personal. The company hails from my hometown, SpamTown USA, a.k.a. Austin, Minnesota. It reminded me that I highlighted Hormel to an investment club that includes some Hormel retirees – and of course the club has Hormel stock.

When I got home, I went online. Evidently, for Hormel, “natural” means “no added nitrates or nitrites, and no artificial colors or flavors.” Am I the only one, or does that seem like a remarkably low bar?

I also checked out the environmental goals posted on their website again. My assessment hasn’t changed: they’ve got a report (good), they’re doing some measuring (good), the plan is remarkably unambitious (bad). Plus, they are promoting their compostable and recyclable packaging (meaningless, unless people have access to industrial composting facilities and unless customers DO recycle).

They set some goals in 2007 – a good start:

  • Reducing water and energy consumption two percent a year for five years (that sounds as ambitious as screwing in CFL light bulbs, as industrial facilities tend to have lots of good conservation opportunities.)

  • They’re increasing their recycling. To 40 percent (by 2008). And to 50 percent (by 2011).

The big failing – they don’t share the results, at least not there. It’s like claiming a 2007 New Years resolution to lose 25 pounds. Did they get to 40 percent? Have they reduced their energy and water consumption by two percent a year the last three years? (How’s your 2007 New Years resolution doing?.)

As a vegetarian, it’s doesn’t much affect me, but that commercial gave my hometown pride a beating.

There’s a lot happening in the world.  Through it all, Marketplace is here for you. 

You rely on Marketplace to break down the world’s events and tell you how it affects you in a fact-based, approachable way. We rely on your financial support to keep making that possible. 

Your donation today powers the independent journalism that you rely on. For just $5/month, you can help sustain Marketplace so we can keep reporting on the things that matter to you.