Business

Stemming the tide of greenwashing


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This past week, I was again struck at all of the attention the media is placing on all things “green”. Green really is the new black (though have you noticed that lots of companies are now touting blue as the new green?).

I don’t know about you, but some days I feel like I’m drowning in a green tsunami that’s engulfing the world. With Earth Day behind us, I had hoped for a break from more waves of environmental cheerleading. Not so. Companies continue to rush in with green claims.

The media is taking notice. On one day this past weekend, I read three articles in three different newspapers about greenwashing. In one of those articles in the Boston Globe, the reporter, Beth Daley, recounts how the Chevy Tahoe was recently named the "Green Car of the Year." This for a vehicle that gets 20 miles per gallon!

The irony of this award is not lost on others. Daley quotes David Champion, director of Consumer Reports’ Auto Test Division as saying, “How a 6,000-pound behemoth can be the green car of the year is beyond me. It's a marketing exercise rather than reality."

To add fuel to the fire, many of you will have heard about a recent study by TerraChoice Environmental Marketing called the Six Sins of Greenwashing. In that study, TerraChoice reports that all but one of the environmental claims being made on more than 1,000 reviewed products were either false or misleading.

Some of those claims were most likely stretching the truth on purpose. However, others were simply the product of uninformed or naïve and overenthusiastic marketers. But, lest you despair that all of this’ll go unchecked, there’s lots going on to wrestle greenwashing to the ground.

For example, new online watchdogs like www.greenwashingindex.com draw attention to the most egregious greenwashers. As well, if you want a website that delivers the straight goods on (primarily) British companies, George Monbiot’s Turn up the Heat does an admirable job.

Governments are also stepping up to address greenwashing with some urgency. The Canadian, US, UK and Australian governments have all fast-tracked efforts to address false environmental claims within the past six months. New regulations are on the horizon.

To complement this work. on June 5, the Canadian Centre for Policy Ingenuity and a Vancouver-based company called Big Room are convening an influential group of Canadian leaders from the advertising, public relations, non-governmental, and environmental standards sectors. The goal of this half-day session is to build an understanding of the current “eco-marketing” landscape and begin exploring a common set of principles that will guide the industry on appropriate green product claims.

For those who are more discerning, along with websites, there are a range of product verification marks—respected eco-labels such as EnergyStar, the Forest Stewardship Council FSC mark and the USDA “organic” logo. Those marks can help you make more informed choices.

But how can you trust these ecolabels to have integrity? The old adage of “buyer beware” continues to be as relevant as always. It’s up to you to do the research and identify the ecolabels you can trust.

To help you with that, the folks at Big Room provide another great resource with their www.ecolabelling.org website, a global, independent database of ecolabels. The site profiles and categorizes more than 400 of them, dozens I never knew existed. Plus, Big Room has more plans to really make the site the indispensable resource on ecolabels. If they can help us compare “apples to apples”, they’ll have a winner.

In the meantime, it’s good to have a healthy dose of skepticism, access to the Internet and other people in your life you can trust. Jointly, those tools will help you avoid being misled on your good intentions.


Front page photo credit: Benjamin Dudoit


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