Greenwashing (a.k.a. green whitewash or green sheen) is the act of appearing, or pretending to be, sustainable or environmentally friendly to cater to environmentally conscious consumers. “Eco” hotels, “green” companies and organizations, even “organic” products can dupe us through greenwashing.
These companies may not be green at all or may be only marginally green in their efforts, all the while marketing themselves as laudably sustainable and invested in the cause, or greenwashing. Companies that greenwash often spend more funds to market themselves as eco-friendly than on actually greening their practices.
What do they gain by lying to us? Why, a wider range of consumers and thus heftier profits.
I’ve blogged about companies and whatnot that are guilty of greenwashing: so-called eco hotels that, when you look into what they are actually doing to make themselves eco-friendly, fall substantially short. As we can see, greenwashing is huge in the ecotourism industry. Another culprit is the automobile industry: how can any cars be environmentally friendly? Come on, folks – cars pollute, and that’s the end of it. All car companies can do is come up with cars that pollute less than others.
Canadian environmental marketing firm TerraChoice came up with a study called “The Six Sins of Greenwashing” in November 2007. The study found that over 99% of 1,018 common consumer products – ranging from electronics to toiletries – randomly surveyed in North America were guilty of greenwashing by lying or misleading.
The six sins of greenwashing are:
- The Hidden Trade-Off – E.g. “energy-efficient” electronics that contain hazardous materials. 998 products and 57% of all environmental claims were guilty.
- No Proof: E.g. “Certified organic” shampoos lacking provable certification. 454 products and 26% of environmental claims were guilty.
- Vagueness: E.g. Products claiming to be “100% natural” when many naturally-occurring ingredients are dangerous, such as arsenic and formaldehyde. 196 products or 11% of environmental claims were guilty.
- Irrelevance: E.g. Products claiming to be CFC-free when – ahem – CFCs were banned 20 years ago! 78 products and 4% of environmental claims were guilty.
- Fibbing: E.g. Products falsely claiming to be certified by an internationally recognized environmental standard like EcoLogo or Energy Star. 10 products or less than 1% of environmental claims were guilty.
- Lesser of Two Evils: E.g. Organic cigarettes, “environmentally friendly” pesticides, or “clean” cars. 17 products or 1% of environmental claims were guilty.
TerraChoice added a seventh sin in April 2009:
- The Sin of Worshiping False Labels: When a product deceptively gives the impression through words or images that it is endorsed by a third-party.
Watch TerraChoice VP Scott Case talk about the sins of greenwashing:
In this video, TerraChoice President Scott McDougall talks about the sins of greenwashing on Canada AM:
So what the hell are we supposed to do now?
I’ll let you know in my next post!