Friday, April 3, 2009

What you need to know about greenwashing -- who does it?

You may have heard of greenwashing -- this is essentially when a company markets a product, service, or brand and says that it is green or environmentally friendly but the facts behind it are not.

There has been quite a bit of greenwashing going on in the past year as everything eco has become so hip and money moving (people buy green). Up until now, consumers have largely been ignorant about or shielded from the truth behind the claims that companies make -- so many companies have gotten away with duping you.

Environmental claims can also be complex. While one element of a product can be green, how the company got you that benefit through the manufacturing process can also be highly polluting -- and the trade off then can become worthless. Or the opposite can be true -- some companies have zero waste manufacturing but give you a product that cannot be recycled. The irony.

Over the past year I have seen several greenwashing lists that rail on companies for not being truthful, hiding the facts, or simply being highly ironic. At first it was just environmental groups or activist writers that would compile these lists which were not widely circulated, but now investment groups and mainstream magazines (like Conde Nast Traveler) are now writing up greenwashing lists which are more widely read. Environmentalism is now reaching the average person with real reasons to pay attention. And environmental regulation is coming big business' way -- and that will immensely affect their bottom line and their ability to compete, especially as consumers and suppliers become more aware and start making more informed buying choices. The PR missteps of greenwashing will also become more devastating. What a different world we live in, eh?

Additionally, about six months ago I was contacted by a lobbying group that was all about trying to influence the public to use more paper instead of less (under the claim that paper is renewable which is true if we truly manage forests responsibly, but cutting down more trees and advancing the tree industry was the real agenda) and was interested in promoting the tree-industry certifications instead of FSC (a non-profit responsible forest certification that isn't perfect but at least it isn't run by the tree industry itself). So greenwashing is big business just trying to maintain the status quo at your and the planet's expense without any regard for real sustainability or your quality of life in the future -- only paying CEO's big money and offering shareholders a bit of a payoff. Sound familiar?

Here's one of the newest greenwashing lists in circulation -- a list with details from 24/7 Wall Street -- read the full article to understand the facts behind the claims and know what they companies produce so that you become more educated about what to look for as a consumer. Don't just read the company names and think that's all you need to know. The companies in 24/7's list include GE, AEP, ExxonMobil, DuPont, Archer Daniels Midland, Waste Management, International Paper (FSC certification for paper is going to be your best option), BP, Dow Chemical, GM.

Additionally, Greenpeace just updated its Guide to Greener Electronics. It's a terrific list of who is doing what in removing toxics from electronics, making them more recyclable, producing less waste and emissions overall, and true gains in energy efficiency. It is a highly useful "greenwashing"-type list for consumers to know where to put their buying power in influencing green decisions. Nokia, Samsung, Sony Ericsson, and Philips have top scores.

If you have the time, write to these companies and demand change. And when you can identify better choices in your purchasing options, make those better choices whenever possible.

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