Is brown the new green? According to some of the largest companies in the U.S., yes.
Recently marketers have widely embraced brown. They know that for most of us, when we see brown we think natural. Eco-friendly. This morning I bought a box of envelopes. From the sea of white envelopes I grabbed the box of brown ones without thinking or reading the label. I just assumed they were the eco option.
Clearly brown sells and it doesn’t always involve critical thought. Last month Cascade introduced a fibre-heavy beige toilet paper, called ‘Moka.’ Meanwhile Target, Dunkin’ Donuts, and Cinnabon have all swapped out white napkins for brown ones. But if it’s brown, is it necessarily green?
According to Cascade, not using bleach reduces Moka’s footprint by 25% compared to their white recycled paper, largely because of energy savings. It’s less clear whether Target, Dunkin’ Donuts,and Cinnabon’s new napkins are any more eco-friendly than the old ones—they’re just browner. Scott Murphy, VP of Strategic Manufacturing and Supply for Dunkin’ Donuts, explained that the company changed their napkins because of what the color “symbolizes” (and of course, that it matches the decor).
Have we now entered the era of brown-washing?
Even companies known as eco-leaders feel the pressure. Seventh Generation dyes its translucent diapers brown—adding pigment because, it claims, customers wouldn’t associate its diapers (made from recycled materials) in white or clear with eco-friendliness.
Unfortunately, it’s not easy distinguishing the genuinely brown from the dyed brown. It’s not like a napkin from a fast-food joint will have a label on it—it might be marked as made from recycled materials, but that won’t tell you what else it contains.
Here are some tips for sorting through the brow-washing:
- Visit the websites of the brands you regularly buy and look for a list of dyes and chemicals, then compare with their competitors. (Seventh Generation for instance does list everything in their production process.)
- Shop from stores that do some of the homework for you – on Ethical Ocean we do our best to research every product on the site.
- Use the GoodGuide app when you’re in a store to find the most eco and natural of the options that are stacked before you.