How to Hang Out the Greenwash

Greenwashing is a dangerous practice that individuals, governments and especially companies employ to justify and hide their actions.  Greenwashing depends on the complexity of the environmental problems that means it is easy to confuse the public and repack something as green. The marketing machine can cover any dirty smears with a vivid imagination and a special reading of the company’s portfolio.  The environmental movement needs to combat greenwashing, and has started to fight, but will it win the fight to environmental sustainability?

Battle Tactics of the Environmental Movement?

Green NGOs current strategy is to publish the cases of greenwash with detailed explanation of why it is not really green.  Although helpful, this media is being mainly absorbed by those who are aware of the dangers of greenwash.  The vast majority of companies are not green, but the consumer needs to be interested in the environment to know this.

GreenwashingIndex and the site Stopgreenwash.org from Greenpeace both allow you to rate  and submit ads from companies that you think are greenwashing.  The idea is good in that it creates a hub where greenwashing cases are gathered and judged for their level of greenwashing.  The problem is however that the sites are still just preaching to the converted

What Should We Do About Greenwashing?

The Government needs to regulate the advertising industry more strongly to prevent cases of greenwashing.  Adverts are just suggestions of reality and are always part truths.  The advertiser can argue that they are just reflecting a particular aspect of a company.

The regulations therefore need to be tightened.

No one would believe McDonalds’s if it started saying that its food was healthy, but is its salad not healthy?  (I know it contains more calories than a Big Mac, but let me keep the example).

Advertising as mouthpiece of the greenwash machinery needs to be controlled. The problem is that those who have the power to control the industry, governments, are among the most serious greenwashers and therefore before setting standards they need to stop greenwashing themselves.

Image Courtesy of Risingtidenorthameric.org

But How Can We Judge What is Really Dark Green?

There are going to be border cases: BP, Shell and many banks that finance oil are the clean-cut cases: not green, but what about other companies that are not directly turning the sea to oil and the fields to toxic waste, such as Apple or Nokia?  Are their products green?

We need to move to the next step of consumer information: a carbon footprint and toxic ingredient label that needs to be carried by every single product.  Companies should then only be able to advertiser their product as “Green” when they are the greenest in their industry.  This will create clarity in every industry and result in competition for the green consumer.  It will also stub out greenwashing instantly.

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2 Responses to “How to Hang Out the Greenwash”

  1. Marlene says:

    Great article, I agree we need to have objective standards by which to measure the environmental impact of products and services.

    I wanted to let you know about another site that gathers examples of greenwashing – ConsumerChange.com. We do not focus on Ads but on actual practices by companies and compare them to their online environmental policy statements. Users submit their Reviews; doesn’t have to be greenwashing, good or bad environmental practices can be included. Then we forward that information to the company concerned and ask them to respond. By showing companies that their consumers care and are watching, we can instigate change.

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