Greenwashing– Marketing Strategy with Green Facade: Advertising Spin, Bending Truth, Deceptive Practices…

Many companies have jumped on the bandwagon of ‘greenwash marketing’; that is, inaccurately promoting their products as green or environmentally friendly when they are not…

Greenwashing is a pejorative term derived from term ‘whitewashing’; It was coined by environmental activists to describe efforts by companies that portray themselves as environmentally responsible when, in fact, they are trying to mask possible environmental wrongdoings.

The term greenwashing was originally used to describe instances of just misleading environmental advertising, but in recent years the term greenwashing has evolved to include other environmental issues as companies attempt to portray themselves as good citizens of the environment.

According to Melissa Whellams, Chris MacDonald write; Regardless of the strategy employed, the main objective of greenwashing is to give consumers and government policy makers the impression that the company is taking the necessary steps to manage its ecological footprint. When in fact they are just attempting to cover-up their misdeeds and deceive the public in thinking that a company with an awful environmental track record actually has a great one. Of course, not all environmental advertising is dishonest, but any advertising legitimately labelled as greenwashing is dishonest.

In the article The Green Hypocrisy: U.S.’s Corporate Environment Champions Pollute The World” by Ash Allen at ‘24/7 Wall St.’ writes: A majority of U.S.’s largest companies have become part of the green movement and have initiated green programs, such as; fleets of hybrid cars, solar for cost-effective energy, contributions to environmental non-profit organizations…

However, the irony of the green movement of these companies
is that many of the firms that spend the most money and public relations effort to show the government, the public, and their shareholders that they are trying to improve the environment are also among the most prolific polluters in the country.  Pollution does not mean that the companies are doing anything illegal. Instead, it simply refers to natural consequence of the companies’ industrial efforts which result in contamination to; air, soil, or water by the discharge of substances that are toxic to the environment…

At the heart of greenwashing is a company’s desire to represent its business as environmentally friendly at the expense of honestly portraying their environmental character. Common methods used by corporations include; advertising, press releases, websites… Less obvious methods that are equally pernicious include; trade groups lobby the public on the company’s behalf, adoption of non-governmental standards for environmental protection, and establishing endowments for green academic research…

In the article “Is the Corporate World’s Patina of Green, Sea-Change, or Course Correction?” by Keith Johnson writes: Greenwashing is a buzzword on increase, and many companies are overly exaggerating their environmental programs in order to win points with consumers and government agencies.

According to ‘State of Green Business Report’ by Joel Makower, green business guru, he writes: Greenwashing is a mixed bag… we’re more or less treading water: Environmentalists, regulators and the media are increasingly scrutinizing what companies are claiming in the green arena. For example; Wal-Mart got the green gospel — at least in part on the advice of management consultants– and they’ve been on a mission to preach the company’s environmental efforts…

So far, with some success; the retail giant takes steps to trim energy use in stores, trucking fleet, supply chain…  Critics like ‘Wal-Mart Watch’ takes aim not just at the retailer, but at the whole economic model supporting it. ‘Wal-Mart Watch’ argues; the efficiency gains through these environmental programs are fine but they are more than offset by the retailer’s relentless growth, expanding its ever-bigger-box stores in ever-more-remote places… thus, the PR is great but the actual benefits to the environment overall is problematic.

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is beginning to pay more attention to deceptive advertising claiming environmentally friendly or sustainable products or services. Under Section 5 of the Federal Trade Commission Act, the FTC is authorized to police deceptive
advertising and marketing claims, including; bringing law enforcement action against companies that are found to have engaged in unfair or deceptive practices. Companies found guilty of deceptive and unfair advertising and marketing practices are subject to potentially significant fines…

The FTC has issued an environmental reference guide, namely; ‘Guides for the Use of Environmental Marketing Claims’ (Green Guides), which sets forth a variety of rules and restrictions on green marketing and requires all marketers making express or implied claims about the sustainability of their products have a ‘reasonable basis’ for claims. Where ‘reasonable basis’ might require competent and reliable scientific evidence to prove claims, including; without limitation, tests, research, analyses, studies… Thus, a company that overstates the environmentally friendly nature of its products or may run a foul of the FTC’s rules on deceptive environmental marketing, and might be subject to fines and other penalties…

In the article Greenwash: A Way to Say Hogwash by Jonathan D. Glater writes: Building contractors and developers are increasing endorsing elements of green, including; planning, construction, energy-efficiency, recycled materials... But, the questions remain; how can anyone be sure that the actual building construction is true to promise of green. For example; how do we know that particular carpet really was made from old trash bags?

How do we know that a particular redwood tree was not killed just to install a new deck? How do we know that a pump in an air-circulation system is high-efficiency model? According to Anthony Bergheim, architect, says; the danger is greenwash: Greenwash is when somebody says; ‘Oh, we have the greenest building in town’, but they don’t have metrics (validation) to show that, in fact, it’s a true green environment…

‘The U.S. Green Building Council’, a nonprofit group, promotes energy efficiency and other environmental benefits in construction and design, and has established criteria to measure how green buildings are built. According to S. Richard Fedrizzi, The Council’s Chief Executive, say; the way that we have tried to build better green buildings and affect building stock is to create a ‘rating system’ that recognizes certain characteristics of the building, including; products, materials… but, for the most part, today we are relying on the honesty and the integrity of the manufacturers of those products, systems… The system is flawed and there is no verification or validation and claims made are not necessarily true…

In the article “Ben & Jerry’s Backs Off ‘All Natural’ Claims” by GreenBiz Staff writes: The Ben & Jerry Ice Cream Company’s mission statement trumpets an aim to make; ‘the finest quality, all-natural ice-cream and euphoric concoctions and to promote business practices that respect the earth and the environment’. But, the firm has come under fire from the Washington-based ‘Centre for Science in the Public Interest’ (CSPI), which took issue with their ice cream ingredients, such as; alkalised cocoa and corn syrup, as well as, partially hydrogenated soya bean oil.

The pressure group contended that the ingredients had either been chemically modified or did not exist in nature: Calling products with unnatural ingredients ‘natural’ is a false and misleading use of the term. In an abrupt about-turn, Ben & Jerry agreed to remove the term from product descriptions… Although the CSPI’s complaint didn’t lodge a greenwashing charge against Ben & Jerry for the use of all natural, the move comes as governments and consumers are growing more aware of false marketing claims in health, as well as, environmental areas.

According to a report from ‘The Guardian’: In the wake of a complaint filed by the advocacy group, the Ben & Jerry Company will remove the phrase ‘all natural’ on its products that contain partially hydrogenated soybean oil and any other questionably natural ingredients.

Buzzwords like; ‘environmental-friendly’, ‘energy efficient’ and ‘carbon offsets’ flow freely from company press releases, brochures, web sites, blogs, and promotional materials. According to Debra Kent Faulk; some claims are accurate, certified and verifiable; while others are misrepresentations designed to sell products. It’s amazing how everywhere you turn, products and practices are suddenly green and earth-friendly:

A natural spring water company promotes their new ‘Eco-Shape Bottle.’ An airline entices employees to leave their cars at home by offering them frequent flier points. A fur trade organization says their product is ‘Eco-Fashion.’ Television is producing green programming, and an on-line retailer advertises electric lawn and garden tools under the headline Think Green

A recent survey of 1,018 products found 99% falsely claimed green credentials. Through an examination of everyday products purchased at category and leading big-box-stores, such as consumer goods ranging from; oven cleaner to caulking to toothpaste and shampoo… researchers studied and found false or misleading green marketing claims.

The watchdog group ‘CorpWatch’ defines ‘greenwash’ as; the phenomena of socially and environmentally destructive companies attempting to preserve and expand their markets or power by posing as friends of the environment. This definition was shaped by the group’s focus on company behavior and the rise of company green advertising. The practice of greenwashing is wide-spread and goes beyond commercial companies; it’s been found in many government agencies, trade associations, and other organizations where they been accused of making false and misleading environmental claims.

The environmental group ‘Greenpeace’ launched a website ‘Stop Greenwash’ to confront deceptive greenwash, engaged in debate, and distribute information to consumers, activists, and lawmaker, as needed, in order to hold companies and other organizations that violate the environment, accountable for the negative impact they are having on the planet.

Green’ design means designing with the whole life cycle of the product in mind (not just about product performance)– that is, eliminate or minimize any negative impact of the product on the environment by using only materials that are biodegradable or recyclable in the product’s design…