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What is Greenwashing?

by Anca

Beware of Greenwashing!

What is greenwashing and what can you do to protect yourself?

Companies have started realizing that doing good for the planet is good for business. Unfortunately, they've also figured out that making consumers think they're doing good can be just as beneficial. This deception is known as "greenwashing." The term refers to a marketing technique whereby a company falsely claims to have taken environmentally friendly actions.

According to a 2007 report by TerraChoice Environmental Marketing, a large majority of environmental marketing claims are inaccurate, inappropriate, or unsubstantiated. Some good news can be had in the fact that the Federal Trade Commission is currently looking to tighten its voluntary environmental marketing guidelines. However, keep in mind that these will still be voluntary, not enforced.

The most blatant greenwashers are often large corporations that have had a controversial environmental past, such as chemical, oil and car companies. For example, an energy corporation might tout the fact that it's investing millions of dollars in sustainable sources of energy while concurrently dumping toxins into public waterways.

A more easily identifiable form of greenwashing can be found at your grocery store. Numerous companies have started using the word "natural" on their household cleaning and personal care products to entice consumers who are looking for an eco-friendly alternative. "Natural" may sound healthy and planet-friendly but it means very little since there is no third-party certification required to make that claim.

Here are some ways you can identify greenwashing:

1. Examine the claim. Is the product certified by a legitimate third party organization? Are they claiming that the entire product is green or just some of the ingredients/materials?


2. Ask for proof. Is the company willing to provide a copy of the environmental standard or testing protocol? Is the process open, public and transparent? Does it address the product's lifecycle and larger environmental effects?


3. Check for consistency. If this is an international organization, are they selling the same products in other countries? If they advertised themselves as 'green', are they still doing what they claim to be doing six months or a year after the ad came out?


4. Follow the money. What organizations is the company supporting? Who are they donating their money to?


To learn more about greenwashing and companies that are and are not doing it, check you these sites: