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Tuesday, July 6, 2010

When Skepticism Pays Off

It's easy to get swept up in the tidal wave of "green" and "natural" products. It seems everyone is jumping on the bandwagon and claiming that they have developed an eco-conscience these days, but a healthy dash of skepticism is definitely in order.

As demand for more natural, earth-friendly products has increased, so has the number of companies claiming to fulfill this demand - and exponentially so. But consumers take heed - greenwashing is here! What is greenwashing? According to Greenpeace, greenwash is "used to describe the act of misleading consumers regarding the environmental practices of a company or the environmental benefits of a product or service." In other words, companies are manufacturing products and labeling them as green or natural without any real basis to do so or claiming that they are taking steps to "green" their company or factories to gain credibility in the growing natural market. Why? In some cases, according to stopgreenwash.org, companies have been forced to clean up their industries by law or a court decision but spin their actions as a good deed on their part to be more environmentally conscious. Painting themselves "green" may also attract investors and staff to their industry or products, as well as consumers. But behind the smoke and mirrors, no real change is happening (except, perhaps, in the company's profits). BP, for example, now entangled in the worst oil spill in our history, launched a $200 million greenwashing campaign, complete with a earth-friendly sun logo and partnership with the National Wildlife Federation to portray themselves as supporters of the environment, despite their primary industry - oil drilling and refinery.

And these companies are succeeding. According to an article in the New Scientist earlier this year, consumer perception of how "green" a company is based upon their ads or media campaigns is very different from the reality. So how is a consumer to navigate through greenwashing? It's not always easy. Start with trying to uncover the truth behind the claims or ads. You might follow your gut instinct, as the Greenwashing Index recommends, or take a peek at some of their greenwashing ads, showcasing some dubious claims. You can also do some online research by visiting company websites to determine what organizations and associations they support or belong to, or what partnerships they may have to reveal their core intentions and mission. You might also look for authentic green certifications such as LEED for green building or read up on some blogs such as the Greenwash Brigade to determine the validity of corporate claims. Get to know your producers - whether local farmers, businesses, or manufacturers. Sometimes, a personal touch makes a huge difference in knowing the truth behind the marketing!

1 comment:

  1. I recently published a book, The Holistic Republican - in it, one of the essays talks about a woman who was very critical of voluntary simplicity, writing an article in Working Mother magazine slamming it. Six or seven years later, this same woman became deputy editor of Real Simple magazine - a pro-consumption mag if there ever was one! There's a lot of deception out there. (The book is located here, if you're interested: http://amzn.to/9s09yN )

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