For the purposes of this blog post I would like to take off my philosopher hat and put back on my former publicist hat. I’ve become increasing disheartened by media campaigns lately (yes, it took me this long) and am particularly uncomfortable with the efforts of many companies to “greenwash.” “Greenwashing” has been used on many PR and advertising campaigns to make large corporations appear more Earth friendly. I find the “washing” annoying and somewhat offensive — I’m also embarrassed as a marketing professional by the spin efforts. (I’m hoping at this point you understand the “spin” PR reference in the title and last line. It’s a real thing.) While this sort of washing has been going on for several years now I can only hope consumers are becoming more and more wary of these efforts. Do companies really believe we are silly enough to think they have suddenly changed their priorities and branding that quickly? Consumers have power to put our money where it counts and we also have the power to see through marketing efforts used to cover-up untrue sentiments.

Greenpeace has an entire site dedicated to reminding companies to “clean up your act, not your image.” I especially appreciated an article early this year about several airlines starting an “Eco-skies” campaign while in the midst of lobbying against anti-pollution programs aimed at airlines. Then there are the many commercials in movie theaters and on TV (if any of us actually still have one of those) targeting consumers who even during a recession are willing to pay more for “greener” products. Ads such as these can leave many of us confused about which companies we can believe in.

Websites such as the Greenwashing Index, promoted by EnviroMedia Social Marketing with the University of Oregon School of Journalism and Communication, help educate consumers about evaluating environmental claims of companies and also hold businesses accountable.  Visitors to the site can search ads, rate ads, and see the worst offenders. Even the FTC has greenwashing on their radar by charging several companies with “bamboo-zling” consumers by claiming to use biodegradable materials that turned out to be rayon.  With so many claims of green and also so many do gooders, a Chicago Tribune blogger has some tips on how to spot greenwashing when you see it and avoid getting stuck in the cycle:

·         Watch for the following sneaky six words:  eco, earth, green, friendly, gentle or kind can be used in many different combinations to actually mean nothing.

·         Look for third-party certifying symbols. EcoLogo, Green Seal, Energy Star, and Water Sense are considered the top certifiers along with the FTC and LEED.

·         Search Google. A simple search using a company name and environment can put the Internet to good use.

·         Know the “Sins of Greenwashing” by Terrachoice. Such as the “sin of no proof” (tissues that claim various percentages of post-consumer recycled content without providing evidence), “the sin of vagueness” (“all-natural” isn’t necessarily green since poisonous substances such as arsenic and mercury are also “natural”), and the “sin of lesser of two evils” (the fuel efficient sport-utility vehicle).

After all of this is said and done I took the “Name that Sin Game” with Terrachoice and still didn’t do so well.  All in all I’d say greenwashing still leave stains, ones consumers and other marketing professionals such as myself must keep scrubbing.

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One comment

  1. Thank you for the sensible critique. Me and my neighbor were just preparing to do some research on this. We got a grab a book from our local library but I think I learned more from this post. I am very glad to see such great information being shared freely out there.

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