There are problems with environmental organizations or groups endorsing products and companies.
For one, consider that true green companies may not be able to afford certification from international organizations to avoid being suspected of greenwashing. That’s not fair.
Another issue is that sources like the deceptive Responsible Travel, “the world’s leading travel agent for responsible holidays,” is irresponsible in only listing companies that pay them for the privilege. Ahem, conflict of interest, ahem. This is not an organization that provides eco certification – it is a commercial travel agency. But by naming itself “Responsible Travel,” it easily misleads:
‘The issue I have is that a commercial travel agent has appropriated the name “responsible travel” and by so doing gives the appearance of being an official industry portal to find those kind of trips,’ says Roger Diski, founder of Rainbow Tours, a specialist African tour operator. ‘But they charge operators to be on the site, which means that only those who are prepared to pay them commission on sales are on there. Furthermore, monitoring of standards is rudimentary; much of what is on there has no particular claim to be responsible.’ (Emphasis mine.)
How can such businesses and groups be trusted to, for one, genuinely hunt for greenwashing in the eco industry and, two, truthfully report their findings?
Not to mention that even well-known certification organizations often fail – as you will find if you take the time to dig – to fully clear the companies they endorse of greenwashing despite their promises because it’s too costly and the logistics crazy complicated (and other reasons may apply).
Consider it: an organization/group/agency would have to send someone to the actual store/hotel/headquarters/etc. to check for a complete absence of greenwashing: whether the food grown in the premises is really organic, if the light bulbs used are energy efficient, if the walls were painted with non-toxic paint, how much PVC is used, if eco hotel employees educate guests and strongly request that they remain quiet during bird watching tours and other activities in the wild, how they dispose of their trash, where they get their drinking water from if the location is remote (a well? Is it trucked in?), and a zillion other items. It would be nearly impossible to verify.
And what exacerbates this dilemma is the lack of international, ecumenical, and consistent eco standards for what exactly comprises an “eco lodge,” a “green company,” and so on. These labels are up for grabs by all bidders, greenwashing and not, because nobody checks up on them and there are no formal punishments for the crime that is greenwashing.
It’s a dire state of affairs for the eco industry.
So, the best thing we can do?
‘Already the word “eco” has lost all power and meaning,’ says Guyonne James, senior projects manager at Tourism Concern, a UK charity which campaigns against exploitation. ‘In Brazil, if a bed-and-breakfast has a back garden, they’ll call it an eco-lodge. There has been such a proliferation of claims and green labels that as a tourist you really have no idea what’s going on.’
Keep our own eyes open and dig deep. That alone is more than most people will do, whether due to lack of time, resources, or interest. And the land is fertile for greenwashing, my friends.
So let’s just do our best, until we can do better.
Even simple questions can allow for the prompt crossing out of options on one’s list.
Baby steps are better than no steps.
In the next post, I will consider frequently cited environmental standards employed to avert greenwashing.
Stay tuned, fellow greenies!