Greenwashing and the Dirty Truth

Business - October 5th, 2009
Greenwash

Sustainable_Business:

by Darrell Nelson

Greenwash (grēn’wäsh’)—verb: the act of misleading consumers regarding the environmental practices of a company or the environmental benefits of a product or service.

Each day we are forced to justify our consumerism as the media bombard us with new information from all angles on how we are causing widespread global warming due to our irresponsible carbon orientated lives. Businesses keen to cash in on this try to appeal to our consciences through offering us the latest and greenest products on the market, whether it be a solar-powered air conditioning unit or a hamster wheel-powered stove!

However in the race to attract the ever increasing ‘consumer with a conscience,’ companies are walking a tight line when it comes to marketing and advertising. Most products we purchase today will have some kind of green tag line, and often tell us that by buying their product we are helping to win the fight against the big heat up. However as more and more products vie for our attention, the consumer is becoming both more educated in what is truly green and also weary on the false promises and eco slogans banded around. The result is what is called ‘greenwashing.’ Put simply, greenwashing is the over-marketing of a product based on a ‘green’ image, without the results or science to back it up—an empty rhetoric if you like. “Arguably, the greenwashers get away with it more often than not. But their deceptions do not go entirely unnoticed,” comment the folks over at www.greenwashing.net. Each year Earth Day Resources, an eco watchdog group, publish their Don’t Be Fooled report, fingering the year’s biggest greenwashing offenders, “the ten companies that have made the most misleading claims about the environmental benefits of their products and industries.”

So what can we look out for? Recently a group called Terra Choice put out a guide to the ‘six sins of greenwashing,’ highlighting the ‘sins’ a company commits and how to avoid this within one’s own company:

1. Sin of the Hidden Trade-Off

2. Sin of No Proof

3. Sin of Vagueness

4. Sin of Irrelevance

5. Sin of Fibbing

6. Sin of Lesser of Two Evils

The Don’t Be Fooled reports and the work of groups like Terra Choice may appear to be rather insignificant when compared to the huge powers of global corporations, however informing the public and opening their eyes up to the ‘sins’ committed is a good start. The fact that the ‘green’ alternative is being marketed more ferociously than ever before is in itself at least a positive sign that the consumer is looking for energy-efficient or sustainable alternatives, and in the end it is the consumer that holds the power of purchase, and in turn determines the future of a corporation.