Greenwashing

greenwash“Green is the new black”, “It’s not easy being green” or “Clean and Green” take your pick. It seems like we have an abundant supply of green marketing slogans and they get the mainstream press. I guess it makes sense, they are marketing materials and companies are paying big bucks to get their message heard above everyone else’s. I think that this may also be one of the reasons why so many people only view sustainable development as a marketing activity. There is even a website that is dedicated to evaluating green advertising, greenwashingindex.com.

So, what is greenwashing?

Green-wash (green’wash’, -wôsh’) – verb: the act of misleading consumers regarding the environmental practices of a company or the environmental benefits of a product or service.

One of the best authorities on greenwashing is terrachoice. Their Seven Sins of Greenwashing site is full of great and useful information. They originally established the six sins of greenwashing, well times are changing and now they have identified a seventh.

1. Sin of the hidden tradeoff

2. Sin of no proof

3. Sin of vagueness

4. Sin of irrelevance

5. Sin of lesser of two evils

6. Sin of fibbing.

7. Sin of worshiping false labels

According to their latest report of the 2,219 North American products surveyed, over 98% committed at least one of the previously identified sins. This past week The U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) charged Kmart Corp., Tender Corp., and Dyna-E International with making false and unsubstantiated claims that their paper products were “biodegradable.” (full story)

If it is so bad, why are so many doing it? It could be that no one wants to be left out.

Green and sustainability can lead to innovation in current products and processes and that leads to revenue and cost savings, why wouldn’t companies want to make sure they get a piece of that.

Or, it could be that we still don’t get it. We view this as nothing but a marketing activity, another new way to sell more product. Don’t get me wrong, their are some companies out there that got it and took it to heart. Take Ray Anderson at Interface, he got it as “a spear in his chest!” Now he is called the “greenest chief executive in America.”

Take the time to truly evaluate your product or process. Evaluate what you think you know against the seven sins and determine if your perception is truly reality.

Don’t feel the need to jump on the green bandwagon. Just because you sell dirt doesn’t mean that starting today you should re-label your bags with green and organic labels.

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