Sweet Dreams With a Sprinkling of Greenwashing

It all started on the way to the mattress store. Because we spend a third of our lives in bed, and mattresses are major sources of health issues that can stem from chemical exposure to design comfort, mine needed immediate attention.

Let me backtrack a few weeks to a specific physical malady that caused me to readjust many of my daily habits that were due to an unexpected herniated disk that was pressing on my sciatic nerve in my lower back. Let’s just leave the rest of the explanation to one big, “OUCH.”

In the never-ending pursuit of creating healthy choices for my home, my husband and I had plunked down some hefty bucks about 5 years ago for truly eco-friendly, mattress that, at the time was the answer to our sleep dreams. It provided years of soft landings and sweet dreams. Now those landings were causing a fluffy mess to my back, and there was no comfort or shuteye at bedtime.

Fast forward to the mattress store. The salesman sized us up for the true greenies that we are. Could it have been my over usage of the words organic, natural latex core, and sustainable? He led us to what he swore up and down was the most natural firm mattress in his stable. It consisted of a natural latex core, with a pleasing, renewable bamboo covering. More importantly, the mattress was firm enough to handle my aching back.

Once we got the mattress home and my hubby started to position the mattress onto our platform bed, I noticed he was ripping away at all the attached tags. I grabbed the tag that had the words written in capital letters, “UNDER PENALTY OF LAW, DO NOT REMOVE THIS TAG.” I never understood the fervor over those labels, but I always headed the message in fear that the possibility of the tag police was lurking over my shoulder. Anyway, the tag exposed the mattress materials as being 87 percent natural and the rest some man-made cocktail of stuff.

Were we greenwashed? Were they out to get us at the mattress store? Are the claims of true sustainability for your home with regard to building and decorating materials becoming a ping-pong game of chance based on our eco-friendly choices? I might be naive (and I hope I am) about this issue, but I don’t believe that the catchphrase “reduce, reuse and recycle” are a just a passing holistic fancy.

What is greenwashing, and can it be applied to my mattress situation? There are a lot of definitions out there for these new “green” terms. This meaning just about sums it up, “Greenwashing is the practice of making an unsubstantiated or misleading claim about the environmental benefits of a product, service, technology or company practice.”

This New York Times article thinks we are being duped, “More buyers and tenants want their homes and offices to possess these (green) virtues. But, as claims of environmentally sound design multiply, a problem has come up. How can anyone be sure that a particular carpet really was made from old trash bags, that a redwood did not die for that deck, that a pump in air-circulation system was a high-efficiency model?”

How can we be sure? There are some general certification systems (like LEED for home buildings) that can standardize and compare a set of ratings that capture whether a product was made in an environmentally friendly way, without exploiting local labor, and that its use would have little impact on the environment. But, what about the thousands of other products produced under the guise of “green”?

So, a funny thing happened on the way to the mattress store–I came home with the mattress of my dreams and maybe got a little greenwashed in the process. Oh well, I can blame it on my aching back, I’m blaming everything else on that this week anyway! Been greenwashed lately?


Mar Yannu Hathory

i've been sleeping on futon mattresses for decades! 7 years ago, i moved from NYC to Colorado, and needed to replace the old futon. i had to special order a futon that did NOT have a foam core. naturally, this cost more and when delivered, i never questioned that it was a solid cotton futon ... until the mattress compressed! then i read the tag, discovered the foam core contents! 4 years later, a different futon store, i told my sad tale to the owners, and purchased THREE new futon mattresses with NO FOAM. of course, i didn't read the content label, i had just told the store owner my story so of course he wouldn't sell me a foam-core futon! WRONG!!!

Ronnie Citron-Fink

Mia, the 5 year old mattress was not thrown out. It got a new owner. My son was very happy to inherit a nearly new eco-friendly mattress and he will have many blissful (and healthy) years of sweet dreams on that mattress.

I agree that it is really important to look at the whole picture when you make a big purchase-like a mattress.

Fran, I think each of us need to be the green police!

Mia M.
Mia M.7 years ago

First of all - the other mattress only lasted 5 years? No matter how 'natural' it was, what a waste to have to discard it so soon. My mattress was my parents' - as is the bed it is on - and must be 40-50 years old. And is still in great shape. I flip it 1-2x/yr. So it's not only important to look at the the manufacturing, shipping, rtc. processes, but also at how long the product may last.

Fran C.
Fran C8 years ago

I am a true optimist, trusting and open minded (suspicious in only the most obvious settings) yet I've become a pessimist with the emergence of Green in commercial products. I simply DO NOT TRUST. If corporate greed is one of the biggest problems in our contemporary world, profiting from health care (!), then Green is bound to be equally snapped up as the Next Big Money Thing.

I READ LABELS. Most wordings are misleading or blatantly deceptive. Where are the Green Police when we need them?

I wish I could be my old optimistic and trusting self, but it's over where ecology/money is concerned.

Thank goodness for wonderful people like you.