Protect Your Family from Eco-Friendly Lies

The corporate world exists to make money, and the growing consumer interest in environmentalism has represented an attractive market segment since the 1960s. Green products are often sold at a premium, because many consumers prefer to support companies that project green images. It is vital for consumers to do their homework, because a growing number of squeaky clean company images are the result of blatant greenwashing.

Environmentalism is a big business.

According to a study performed by the AARP, over half of all baby boomers are concerned about the environment. There are nearly 80 million baby boomers, so that number represents a whole lot of purchasing power. Environmentalism is also immensely popular among the younger generations, which is why so many companies target the green market segment.

Some companies are legitimately green, but a lot of businesses need to go through a series of morally gray hoops if they want to appeal to environmentally-conscious consumers. That process is known as greenwashing, which refers to the much older practice of whitewashing. When a company greenwashes its image or products, it seeks to provide biased or untrue data in order to influence consumer opinions.

There are Six Primary Greenwashing Tactics.

The economic draw of the green marketplace is powerful, and businesses engage in a variety of shady marketing practices. TerraChoice examined all of those practices in order to create a list of six primary greenwashing tactics.

  1. Many products are marketed as green because they contain recycled components. This is often a hidden trade-off, because the rest of the product may not be green at all.
  2. Companies sometimes make claims but provide no proof to back them up. If nobody questions this behavior, businesses are able to make unfounded claims about efficiency and sustainability.
  3. Marketing terms are often vague, which can create a false image. Terms such as natural, non-toxic and chemical-free are all relatively meaningless.
  4. Irrelevant claims are true, but they are also meaningless. It has been illegal to use CFCs for nearly 30 years, but companies still market CFC-free products as if that term still meant something.
  5. Some companies are guilty of simply lying about their products. Other companies manipulate data, which is also misleading.
  6. Some products are the lesser of two evils. An organic cigarette might be green, but that does not mean it is good.

Greenwashed companies and products are everywhere.

One prominent example of greenwashing occurred when Glad trash bags were marketed as biodegradable. The marketing campaign didn’t mention that the bags only biodegraded in the presence of sunlight. Since most trash bags are disposed of in landfills, the marketing campaign mislead consumers.

Other companies brazenly continue their unsustainable practices but purchase carbon offsets or wind energy credits. EasyJet famously announced that it was more environmentally sound to travel on that airline than to drive a hybrid vehicle. EasyJet may have purchased enough carbon offsets to make that statement true, but it was still misleading.

Another well known offender is British Petroleum, which attempted to reinvent itself as Beyond Petroleum. That occurred in the wake of one of the worst environmental catastrophes in history, which BP was responsible for. The oil giant talks a big game about renewable energy, but it has consistently reduced its investments in renewable energy projects.

Many bottled water companies also engage in greenwashing, and the popular Fiji brand is especially guilty. Fiji positions itself as a green company, which is demonstrably false. Despite the fact that the people of Fiji have shockingly little access to clean drinking water, the military junta in the country supports the practice of exporting water to the US and other countries. The bottles are also produced in diesel-powered Chinese factories.

Greenwashing represents a breach of trust.

When companies use greenwashing tactics, they are lying. That represents a fundamental breach of trust between the company and its customer base. This breach of trust is especially troubling when the environment is involved, because people are often willing to pay a premium in order to support companies that engage in sustainable business practices.

Some companies have been brought to task regarding their questionable greenwashing tactics. In 2008, a British advertising regulatory agency ruled that a Shell campaign was misleading. The campaign claimed that Shell’s tar sands project was environmentally sustainable. Other companies get away with greenwashing tactics, which is damaging to consumer trust.

Consumers can fight back against greenwashing.

Not all companies engage in greenwashing, but it can be exceedingly difficult to tell the difference. It is possible to protect your family from the effects of greenwashing, but you need to make an effort to educate yourself. Greenpeace suggests that you start by looking at the core business of a company. If a business is engaged in activities that are fundamentally unsustainable, you may want to look carefully at the so-called green products that it offers.

You also need to look at advertising with a critical eye. You may find tell-tale hints that a marketing campaign is simply greenwashing if you look closely enough. If you study the six sins of greenwashing that TerraChoice compiled, you will find it much easier to identify questionable advertising.

The Greenwashing Index is also an excellent place to start, since it provides a venue for consumers to discuss the veracity of green marketing claims. If you are unsure whether a product or business is really green, it pays to do some research.

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