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Greenwashing: What’s in a Name?

10.25.2010

Photo credit: Sean Rogers

With some of the largest consumer holidays just around the corner, many eco-conscious shoppers will be looking for environmentally friendly or sustainable choices for their purchases.  While most of us will have good intentions when we choose to buy products claiming to be “eco-friendly” or “green”, many of us don’t truly realize or understand what these terms and labels actually mean.

Until recently, most companies could get away with labeling a product as eco-friendly with little proof or justification for awarding such a title.  In many cases, this type of green marketing is referred to as “greenwashing”.  Greenwashing essentially involves a company claiming that their product or service has a little to no negative impact on the environment and in some cases may actually be beneficial to the environment.  The largest concern with greenwashing is that consumers believe they are making sustainable choices, when in reality many of these labels and claims have no outlined regulations or rules for being awarded.  Greenwashing has become a way for companies to appeal to the increasing market share of environmentally conscious consumers, while at the same time acquiring brand loyalty.  Not only has greenwashing led to confusion and mistrust among consumers, it has also had a detrimental effect by discrediting verified green labels.  In the midst of this sea of false advertising, there is good news to help consumers navigate their way to sustainable choices.

With the eruption of BP’s Deepwater Horizon oilrig earlier this year, the so-called greenest company in the petroleum industry suddenly became public enemy number one.  This unfortunate event in many ways marked the end of the unregulated days of green marketing when a company could claim their product was green with little consequence or actual proof for such claims.  Green transparency has become the new focus of various environmental groups and watchdogs; meaning that companies can no longer make green marketing claims alone, they must also clearly demonstrate it in their operations.  As well, green transparency is finally being required in the corporate world.  In a move toward clearer definitions of green claims, “after about 15 years without revision, the Federal Trade Commission is updating its guidelines for green claims, creating verifiable definitions for buzzwords such as “sustainable” and “biodegradable.””  While the FTC is working towards creating verifiable and reliable green labeling, there are ways for consumers to truly make green choices.  A number of labels currently exist that use third-party verification systems to establish their products as environmentally friendly.  Many green labels for your everyday products can be found via a Google search or on websites such as www.ecolabelindex.com or www.ecologo.org.  By taking the time to learn the real green labels for your favorite products, you will be ensuring that your well-intentioned purchases are by definition sustainable.

Learn more about greenwashing here and here.



Jeremiah Brenner

written by Jeremiah Brenner

Browse other posts by Jeremiah Brenner »

2 Responses to “Greenwashing: What’s in a Name?”

  1. anna says:

    I find greenwashing to be extremely frustrating.. I am tired of being lied to by corporations who manipulate the general public’s good intentions of making sound consumer choices to fill their seemingly insatiable corporate apetite. Are there any companies that are 100% sound in terms of environmental and social consciousness.. Or where would I find reliable information or perhaps a rating system for companies in terms of their responsibility to the planet and to people producing their products?

  2. Hi Anna,

    Thanks for your comment. You can use the following indexes to see judge the verification and certification systems used by companies for their products: http://www.ecolabelindex.com or http://www.ecologo.org. As well, for products like electronic consumer goods, you can search on Greenpeaces’ website: http://www.greenpeace.org/international/en/campaigns/toxics/electronics/how-the-companies-line-up/ , which just completed their 2010 ranking for consumer electronics. Typically, if you do a simple Google search with key words for the product or service your interested in, you will be able to find information on their level of sustainable and socially conscious behaviours. Hopefully this answers your questions, but feel free to contact me for more information. Thanks.

    Jeremiah

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