greenwashing in the age of environmentalism

My spell check is telling me that “greenwashing” is not a word. So naturally I went online and double-checked that, it is, in fact referred to as “greenwashing”, one word. What I just did is a fancy thing millennials like to call “fact checking”. This will be your best asset in your fight to determine which brands to trust and which brands to drop.

what is greenwashing?

Greenwashing or “green sheen” refers to the act of portraying an organization’s product or services as environmentally friendly only for the sake of marketing. There are two main types of greenwashing:

  1. A company claims credit for an existing production method as if they were influenced by an eco-friendly directive. For example, a company may eliminate the use of plastic wrap in its shipping department in an effort to cut costs but ultimately portrays it as a green initiative.
  2. A company may lie about the eco-friendliness of a product by using phrases such as “best in class eco-tech” or choose packaging that is green and covered in flowers, or even display false or application-based certifications.

identifying signs of greenwashing

Environmental Imagery: elaborate designs, excessive printing, and overtly “green” labeling is highly unlikely if the company is actually environmentally responsible.

Misleading Labels: a label simply reading “Certified” or “100% Organic” or “Eco-Friendly” without any supporting information is most likely not a green company. These classifications don’t mean anything if they’re not supported. Some labels may look like a third-party endorsement but in reality… the third party doesn’t even exist. Look for supporting information, google the company, or simply choose products you know.

Hidden Trade-Offs: a good example of this is in the fashion industry. Some companies use “natural” or “recycled” materials which is great, but the trade off is how they obtained those materials. A company looking to be truly transparent will identify as socially and ethically responsible.

Irrelevant Claims: you may have seen labels that boast “free from ‘insert already banned chemical here’!!” A socially and environmentally responsible company will boast what they do do… not what they don’t. Another example of this is when a company highlights a very minute green initiative without acknowledging all of the other harmful behavior or consequences associated with it.

Lesser of Two Evils: example: organic cigarettes. The company’s claim is true but a greater risk or environmental impact prevails.

greenwashing in 2019…

  1. Volkswagen, BMW, Chevy, Ford, Mercedes-Benz… “clean diesel”
Screen Shot 2016-04-21 at 2.42.01 PM
Sure, Volkswagen made headlines for their emissions-cheating scandal where they admitted to rigging 11 million of its own “clean diesel automobiles” with devices designed to cheat emissions tests, but sadly, they aren’t the only ones in the auto industry fibbing their “earth-friendly” auto options. Mercedes-Benz for example released the luxury BlueTEC vehicles, which are marketed as “clean diesel” and “eco-friendly” however, they release nitrogen oxides at levels more that 65 times higher than what the EPA allows.

2. Kauai Coffee Pods- single serve compostable k-cup alternatives!

Finally! The solution we’ve all been waiting for!!! In my opinion, this example of greenwashing doesn’t hold a candle to the Volkswagen scandal… but it’s still greenwashing nonetheless.
Kauai claimed it’s coffee pods were “100% compostable!” but failed to mention to consumers that they can only be composted in industrial facilities that are few and far between. This constitutes as greenwashing because Kauai specifically marketed a green alternative without providing all the information necessary to actually help the environment.

3. SeaWorld- killer whale shows

Screen Shot 2016-04-21 at 10.00.42 PM
This probably isn’t new to you… but if it is, SeaWorld claims that it “cares for”, “nurtures”, “protects” and creates a “fun. interesting, and stimulating” environment for it’s whales. They claim to be helping whale conservation efforts through hands-on education. Look, we all used to want to work at SeaWorld when we were younger, I don’t blame you! But in reality, SeaWorld provides an unhealthy environment for its whales that is neither natural nor educational… whales do not flip on command in the wild.

These are just a few of the many many companies that exercise greenwashing in their marketing. Heck, it’s much easier to watch a sacred ocean beast jump for mackerel when we’re told that this is somehow “helping” the species. Organizations like the National Advertising Division and the Federal Trade Commission are doing their part to crack down on companies that are cashing in on the environmental wave. But I beg you, that is not enough. It’s up to consumers to educate themselves and vote with their dollar. Keep those warning signs in mind and choose to be an informed consumer!!

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