Greenwashing is especially egregious when it comes to infant products. But what about greenwashing that violates the World Health Organization’s code of ethics on marketing infant feeding products? And what if this greenwash + code violation was perpetrated by a company with “Eco” in its name? Then you’d have EcoBold, a dot-com that turns a blind eye to international policy and your child’s well-being.
This is a pretty complex greenwash since it actually violates a standing code of ethics (that is law in many countries) and the greenwash is centered on a hot button topic: infant formula. Let’s do a background lesson.
1970s: Nestle is exposed for their aggressive and inaccurate marketing campaigns that encourage thousands of mothers to stop breastfeeding and use their formula products. High cost of formula, lack of available clean water, and lack of protective immunological components of breast milk cause thousands of infant deaths.
1978: Nestle testifies in US Senate hearings about the ethics and responsibilities the company has in these deaths.
May 1981: The International Code of the Marketing of Breast-Milk Substitutes is passed.
This code was created in 4 drafts by the WHO, UNICEF, and infant formula companies. The vote tally: 118 votes in favor, 1 against, 3 abstentions.
1984: Large scale US boycott of Nestle products pressures Nestle to comply with many standards in the WHO Code.
1989: Some formula companies take a stand in favor of the WHO Code, such as Ross Laboratories. Nestle moves into the North American market, disregards the WHO Code, and soon all other formula companies, even Ross Laboratories, follow suit.
July 2011: I am contacted by EcoBold to write a guest blog. I visit the website and see (then on the home landing page) a video in which a woman describes how to mix up formula in water-filled, pre-measured single use baby bottles.
Now that you are up to date, let me explain exactly why this is both greenwashing and a violation of the WHO Code.
What’s the most sustainable way to feed a child? Breast feeding.
Formula products are not sustainable. Many are made from cow milk or GMO soy. They also contain corn sweeteners. The demand for formula contributes to global mono-culture that involves shipping crops around the globe, increasing the carbon foot print. The packaging, processing, shipping, and storage requirements also have a carbon toll.
Shipping water in plastic bottles has an enormous carbon footprint. Single use bottles have an enormous carbon foot print even if they are recyclable. Single use bottle nipples can only be recycled in a handful of US cities.
What does the WHO Code say and why is this a violation?
Direct from the WHO code:
“Article 2. Scope of the Code
The Code applies to the marketing, and practices related thereto, of the following products: breast-milk substitutes, including infant formula; other milk products, foods and beverages, including bottlefed complementary foods, when marketed or otherwise represented to be suitable, with or without modification, for use as a partial or total replacement of breast milk; feeding bottles and teats. It also applies to their quality and availability, and to information concerning their use.”
The term “marketing” is defined as “product promotion, distribution, selling, advertising, product public relations, and information services.”
The video is marketing.
The complete resolution can be read at: http://www.who.int/nutrition/publications/code_english.pdf
Now here is the part you did all this reading and learning for:
I sent the proprietor of EcoBold, Steffany Boldrini, a fact-based email letting her know that I couldn’t be a guest blogger for her site as it was in violation of the WHO Code. Her response:
“That bottle comes with purified spring water, do we lactate water?”
To get technical, yes we do. Breast milk is mostly water. And to get more technical, the product Ms. Boldrini is defending is a single use plastic bottle designed to feed a child in the least eco-responsible way. But I didn’t respond with that. I gave her the information she needed to help her company comply with the WHO Code. As of the date of this publication, EcoBold has not removed the greenwashed product or its associated WHO Code violating video.
Ms. Boldrini also sated in an email to me that “we recommend mom’s milk 100% of the time.”
I can’t see how this is true. The product she and I discussed was not a product for feeding expressed human milk. It is a formula-focused product. The text on her website and the accompanying video describe the product as a formula-only product.
So here is my plea to the vendors of Nourish Baby Bottles: Stop selling, marketing, and defending this product. This product is the worst kind of greenwashing. Single-use is a fancy term for garbage. Undermining the health of women and infants by violating the WHO Code is dangerous to global health and our ecosystem.
Danielle Downs investigates greenwashing in the household products industry and is an advocate for non-toxic living. She writes and gardens in Atlanta, Georgia with her husband, daughter, and dogs. Follow her on Twitter @DanielleWrites