Greenwashing is an unwanted by-product of the modern environmental movement. Greenwashing is a term that refers to the practice of companies advertising their products and policies to be good for the environment in an effort to get environmentally-conscious consumers to purchase their products. It’s a deceptive abuse of green public relations and marketing. Greenwashing is everywhere. One automobile company marketed one of their conventional SUVs as “small and fuel-efficient” and their slogan was “thirsty for adventure, not gas”. Water companies even advertise their plastic bottles as eco-friendly.
The term greenwashing was coined by Jay Westerveld, an environmentalist who noticed back in 1986 that hotels were encouraging guests to reuse bath towels in an effort to save the environment. The reality, though, is that hotels are incredibly wasteful and reusing bath towels hardly puts a dent in the giant carbon footprint of the hotel industry. The reality is that hotels were saving huge amounts of money on laundry costs. There is a way to spot greenwashing, however, that will help to ensure that you are only supporting companies that truly make green products.
To start, be skeptical of vague and confusing language. In general, claims that are not followed by a legitimate certification from a recognized, third-party organization are simply marketing tactics. A company can claim that their product is eco-friendly and no one measures if the claim is true. Also look out for green products made by companies that aren’t green. For example, a company that dumps pollutants into rivers might make efficient light bulbs.
A classic example of greenwashing is using suggestive pictures. If you’re buying liquid bleach with flowers on the package, that’s a perfect example. Companies package their products in an effort to get you to buy them, so you’ll easily find thousands of products that have flowers, leaves, mountains or other natural features on them. This messes with the psychology of consumers, since it implies that a product is natural because there are green leaves and flowers on it, but there’s no truth behind it.
You should also be skeptical of irrelevant claims. Many companies advertise that their products are “CFC-free”, but chlorofluorocarbons (CFC’s) have been banned in the United States since 1978, so every product on the market today could be labeled as “CFC-free”. Another thing to be skeptical of is when a company claims that they or their products are greener than a competitor. Also look for imaginary certifications. A company might say that their product is “eco-friendly certified”, but there is no regulatory organization that goes by that name.
In general, EnviroCitizen.org cautions that if a company is making a claim about its own product in an effort to get you to buy it, you should be skeptical. You can loosen your skepticism when a product is actually certified by a third-party, independent verifying organization. If something is certified organic, you can buy with the confidence in knowing that it really is organic.