A 30 years-old phenomena

As the demand for green products grows among consumers, unscrupulous companies have seen a golden opportunity: greenwashing. They gain a better image, more profits and nobody loses … except the consumer and the environment. 🙁 So, what exactly is greenwashing? Coined by environmentalist Jay Westerveld in 1986, CorpWatch explains it best: greenwashing is

“the phenomena of socially and environmentally destructive corporations, attempting to preserve and expand their markets or power by posing as friends of the environment.”

These devious companies have wrapped their products and services in the veil of eco-green, while behind the scenes shrugging their shoulders and thumbing their noses in the face of Mother Earth.

The different faces of greenwashing

But the end result is always the same: the environment loses, consumers are duped and the company profits. The most typical form of greenwashing is the brave green facade presented to consumers. Claims have no back-up evidence, they are exaggerated and puffed up and often serve to confuse consumers who wish to do right by the environment but lack experience in determining what is truly eco-conscious. Often claims that actually save the company money (the real purpose) are wrapped in greenwashed terms with green imaging: less plastic! 50% less filling!

Other times claims are actually something that is required by law (such as a reduction in a certain ingredient) but are marketed as a voluntary change in an effort to protect the environment. At the same time these companies are lobbying the government for fewer environmental regulations and are cutting eco-friendly corners in extremes in other areas of their business. The “less plastic!” claims sounds great until you realize it actually results in 30% more trash going to the landfill, or 15% higher carbon emissions.

The practice of “Green Line”

Another type of greenwashing emerging is the practice of introducing a “green line” and heavily promoting it, while simultaneously continuing business as usual with 99% of their product line. Advertising and marketing dollars go towards showing the virtuous side of the company and the company can proactively fight back against environmentalists opposed to their standard business practices. Consumers are blinded by the dollars pumped into the green campaign and only see the sparkly green side of the company – perhaps even confusing their standard line for their green line, unwittingly supporting unsustainable practices. Often times the advertising and marketing budgets are higher than the actual money pumped into the sustainability efforts in an effort to divert attention away from their harmful practices, resulting in a purposefully misled consumer.

Unethical and…expansive

So why do companies greenwash instead of just making the changes consumers want? It can be expensive to go green. Making real, sustainable changes to existing factories and business practices, even if a net cost savings can be realized over the years, can be prohibitively expensive for some companies. Furthermore, companies might be unwilling to spend the necessary capital for changes they might view as a passing trend. Why bother investing their hard earned profits when the fad will be over in a minute? Making truly sustainable changes to businesses can be more than just expensive to implement, it can halt production lines, it can mean current supplies are rendered useless and it can be extremely time consuming, diverting attention away from making profits elsewhere.

In short, going green is not for the faint of heart. It takes real commitment to the eco-conscious cause, and defrauding consumers to make them think you’ve helped them live up to their values is devious and wrong. How can you make sure the companies you support aren’t greenwashing? Read the ingredients, research production methods, demand transparency from the product line and look for independent seals of approval from third parties truly dedicated to the environment.


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