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Greenwashing: What it is and Why it Matters to Us

Walk into a hotel room today and a sweeping glance of the room likely reveals a sign or card encouraging the room’s guest to “go green” by reducing how frequently the towels and linens are washed.

In the 1980s, New York environmentalist Jay Westervelt not only noticed such a placard, he noticed the irony in the request.

The signs Westervelt found in a Fiji hotel room stated that the oceans and reefs were important resources and that by reusing the towels, guests could aid the hotel in its efforts to reduce ecological damage and help the environment. However, just outside the room’s window, the hotel was undergoing messy construction and expansion, and there were no other indications of any efforts on the part of the hotel to otherwise reduce waste or energy consumption.

Westervelt deduced that the actual objective of this “green campaign,” now commonplace among hoteliers, was to decrease expenses and increase profit.

Three years later, having noticed this false green campaign trend across industries, Westervelt penned an article for a New York City-based literary magazine in which he coined the word “greenwashing.”

The term took off across the media, and today, greenwashing continues to be defined as a company’s use of marketing or public relations efforts to make its products or practices appear more environmentally friendly than they truly are – a problem that has only grown exponentially since the phrase was introduced three decades ago.

Greenwashing in the Candle Industry

Today, companies across industries are painting their practices and products with the “green sheen” of greenwashing, and the examples are seemingly endless.

In the health and beauty industry, a shampoo bottle wore a slogan claiming “a truly organic experience” on the front, yet the back label showed a list of ingredients such as lauryl sulfate and propylene glycol that are far from organic.

Plastic disposable water bottles display images of mountains and greenery and state claims of new and improved designs that are easier on the environment thanks to less plastic used – which does little to counter the overall detrimental effects of the bottles.

While large energy and gasoline companies are among the worst offenders, even the candle industry is far from exempt from the practice of greenwashing.

Simply typing “best natural candles” into Google reveals dozens and dozens of options presented as natural and non-toxic. Delving a bit deeper, however, reveals that many of them don’t truly warrant that distinction.

Popular among the best natural candle articles that the Google search reveals are soy candles, marketed as a healthier alternative to paraffin. While that may be true, what many of those soy candle companies won’t tell you is that they are not 100 percent soy, as the processing still requires small amounts of paraffin.

With limited Federal Trade Commission (FTC) guidelines and regulations on claims by candle companies, manufacturers are even able to market their candles as “all natural” when they utilize soy wax derived from hexane (a chemical commonly extracted from petroleum).

When it comes to the alluring scents and fragrances used by many of the leading “all natural” candle manufacturers, the ingredients are often far from natural. Because they are considered proprietary fragrances, candlemakers are not required to list the chemical additives utilized to create their candle’s scents, and in turn, if they are not made with essential oils, even that popular, name brand, all natural soy candle could be emitting volatile organic compounds such as formaldehyde and petroleum distillates into the air in which the candle is burning.

In an effort to appear to utilize pure essential oils rather than these toxic synthetic fragrances, some manufacturers will even use trace amounts of essential oils to allow them to say that the candle is “made with essential oils” – even if the fragrance is really 99 percent synthetic.

Fontana’s Commitment to Clean

Fontana was founded with the mission of creating the cleanest candles possible – candles marketed with no way of greenwashing because they are truly all-natural and non-toxic.

That commitment is what initially led us to choose to create 100 percent beeswax and coconut oil candles rather than soy, and it’s that same commitment that led us to decide that using phthalate-free fragrance oils was not enough for us. After educating ourselves and questioning the fragrance industry's lack of transparency into their chemical concoctions, we decided not knowing which chemicals were in our candles would not work for us and our brand mission. Instead, we are in the process of reformulating our scents to be made using solely pure essential oils and plant-based oils, taking our all-natural, non-toxic, transparent mission to the next level.

The More You Know: How You Can Avoid Buying into Greenwashing

Armed with the knowledge of what greenwashing is and common greenwashing practices within the candle industry, it’s now up to you as a consumer to avoid buying into that “green sheen!”

Whether shopping for candles, food, or household items, bypass the slogans and “green” labels and carefully read the packaging. When purchasing candles, forego the “natural fragrances” and look for those made solely with essential oils. By doing so, you won’t only avoid buying into greenwashing, you yourself will be “going green!”

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