What Does “Greenwashing” Mean?

What Does “Greenwashing” Mean?

According to the Oxford English dictionary, the phrase “green washing” is defined as "disinformation disseminated by an organization so as to present an environmentally responsible public image."

A combination of the words “green” and “whitewashing”, the phrase was coined in 1986 by suburban New York environmental activist Jay Westerveld, as a pejorative: a way to describe unethical or misleading practices that are designed to give the impression of environmental consciousness. (Wikipedia)

The term “greenwashing” is often used to describe a company or organization that spends more time and money on advertising that they are "green" or environmentally-friendly than they do on actually putting into place practices that are eco-friendly. Some organizations may do this simply as a matter of public relations, while others are truly unethical, and hope to mislead the public.

There are “Six Sins” that are habitually made by businesses and organizations that are guilty of greenwashing:

  1. Hidden Trade-Off – This is when companies focus on one step of the process that they have made environmentally-friendly, when in fact the production, transportation, and other production factors, may not be “green” at all.

  2. No Proof – Companies should always be able to provide certificates, test results, and other research to support their eco-friendly claims, either through their website, the mail and even over the telephone.

  3. Vague Claims – Similar to sin number one, this is when companies tell the truth, but not the whole truth. They don’t elaborate on their claim; “earth-friendly” and “chemical-free” are examples of vague claims.

  4. Irrelevant Claims – TerraChoice, an environmental marketing agency, uses the example of companies claiming a product such as oven cleaner or spray paint to be CFC-free; but, Duh! CFCs have been banned in aerosol products in the US for nearly 40 years! Inquire if the statement is actually important to the product.

  5. Lies or Fibs – Some companies simply lie about “green” qualities of their product or service. Luckily, the organizations that do certify green claims provide lists of certified products. Consumers won’t run into this problem as much as the other sins but do be aware that it does happen.

  6. Lesser of Two Evils – This sin applies to products or services that have a questionable environmental benefit; TerraChoice uses the example of organic cigarettes and green pesticides. Making those products green doesn’t have a significant effect on the health of the environment, or human beings.

If being eco-conscious is important to you, greenwashing can inhibit your ability to make healthy, positive choices for you and your family. Take the time to research the foods, clothing, and other products you bring into your home to ensure you’re not the victim of a greenwashing campaign.

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