A Black Eye for the Greens?

Like the reputation business , being “green” is as much about action as it is words. Rhetoric unsupported by behavior is insincere. Behavior uninformed by thought and discussion is irresponsible.

Authentic “green” action should begin with companies and consumers alike educating themselves about sustainable products and practices. The process of understanding how (or whether) a product or practice is environmentally-sound or safe is fundamental to the overall objective of environmental stewardship.

A few brands learned the importance of green due diligence in late 2010, forced to issue recalls and warnings about the seemingly harmless and environmentally-friendly reusable shopping bag.

Wait, how could the reusable bag be anything but good for the earth and humanity? Over the past three years it seems as though every place I turn, a new reusable bag is thrust upon me. Whole Foods even rewards me with a shiny Thomas Jefferson for each bag that I bring to the store. (I’m sure I’ll make millions on that scheme.) As a result, my wife and I now have a collection of reusable bags that nearly rivals our collection of single-use plastic bags from the days before we were “green.”

According to a recent report by consumer reporter Carly Weeks of Canada’s Globe & Mail , several major retail brands are embroiled in the safety debate about reusable bags. Lululemon Athletica ,SearsWinn-Dixie , and Wegmans all took action to recall bags or warn customers about lead poisoning concerns. Apparently, these little “green” gems – let’s call them emeralds – are manufactured using products containing substantial levels of lead . (Hmmm. Good thing I don’t use them at the grocery store with my consumables. Oh, wait…)

Actually, rather than an immediate health concern, the lead concerns relate to what happens when we all get tired of this “green” fad and pitch our reusable bags into the circular file . Considering that there are probably 100 bags in circulation for every man, woman and child in America, this worry isn’t so far-fetched. Hell, my local Whole Foods has at least 10,000 bags on display at any given time.

While the bags represent exceptional marketing opportunities for brands, it seems as though a lack of due diligence resulted in a significant risk to reputation. A health hazard, potential environmental legacy, and image crisis all wrapped into a colorful little bag.

While green is great, thorough forethought remains king in my book.

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