Green For Show: Signs That You Are A Greenwasher

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The environmental movement has spread throughout the United States in a major way. Everywhere you turn, we’re reminded of the importance of preserving the earth’s natural resources. Many Americans have embraced the movement with the undying commitment that rivals any religious devotion. And big companies are taking notice. More than ever before, businesses are marketing their products and services to environmentalists. In fact, studies suggest that a huge percentage of American consumers who don’t identify themselves as strict environmentalists are often drawn to products marketed as “natural” or “environmentally friendly.”

Unfortunately, research shows that there’s often little truth behind these green marketing strategies. While some companies have a legitimate concern for the environment and implement that concern in their products, services and marketing, other less scrupulous companies try to lure consumers to their products or services by touting them as eco-friendly, green or natural, without any substances behind those claims. This phenomenon, popularly known as “green washing,” has become big business. Because companies know that many Americans will shell out more money for products if they think they’ve been designed with protection of the environment in mind, the temptation to stretch the truth about the greenness of a product can be compelling for executives driven by the bottom line. However, consumer watchdog groups are catching on to these schemes and consistently strive to expose companies that engage in questionable green washing tactics.

As the environmental movement has continued to spread, this phony brand of environmentalism is no longer just confined to big corporations. Instead, individuals are being targeted for their false claims of environmental commitment. For example, the news media and political watchdog groups have begun identifying certain politicians as hypocrites when their stated dedication to environmental issues is called into question by their actions. And hard-core environmentalists might point to the parking lots full of gas-guzzling SUVs at the nation’s local health food store as an indication that more and more families in middle America are committing greenwashing offenses everyday.

Are you a greenwasher? Do you live in a greenwashing household? The information below may help you figure out if you have committed egregious greenwashing offenses and if it’s time to atone for your environmental sins.

Consistency

To avoid being identified as a phony environmentalist, consistency is key. A true environmentalist remains committed to the cause, despite the circumstances. If recycling a jar would require a lot of cleaning effort, a greenwasher may decide, just this one time, to throw it in the trash rather than the recycling bin. In addition, a true friend of the environment doesn’t shy away from organically grown food or other sustainable products because of higher costs. For the truly committed, the extra cost is worth it. In short, letting convenience or cost dictate the degree of your eco-friendly devotion will naturally call into question your sincerity.

In addition, as many legislators have discovered over the past several years as the greenwashing discussion has gotten more and more attention, keeping your political positions consistent will help you walk the straight and narrow as you support the movement.

Motivation

For committed environmentalists, the primary motivation behind their green-friendly actions is the preservation of the earth’s resources. However, even the most loyal devotees may personally benefit from their eco-conscious efforts in other ways. For example, a family that takes great care to outfit their home with energy efficient materials may experience long-term financial savings in the form of lower utility bills. And an individual who buys organic may experience improved health as a result of the nutritious foods he’s consuming. Even if your eco-conscious actions are motivated, in part, by these beneficial byproducts, you’re not necessarily a greenwasher. However, your sincerity may come into question if the primary motivation for your green-friendly actions becomes something other than the preservation of the earth’s resources.

Take, for example, an individual who drives a hybrid to save on gas and also adorns his car with bumper stickers with environmentally conscious messages. If the fuel efficient vehicle and green statement displayed on it are primarily intended to help him save a few bucks and to create an eco-friendly persona, then he may be a greenwasher. If his main aim is social acceptance by making environmentally friendly statements, rather than to advance the green movement, chances are he’ll be identified as a phony.

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Comments

  1. For the truly committed, the extra cost is worth it.

    This is only true if you have the funds to pay the extra cost. There are many people who don’t. In making such a statement, you’ve judged those with fewer resources as being less caring of the earth than those with more.

    A better motto is, “Do the best you can to care for the earth, with what you have.”

  2. Not sure I 100% agree with this. Why does environmentalism have to be a zero-sum game? If I am doing what I can to reduce wasted energy and resources, but partially motivated my the money I save by doing it, doesn’t that make it a win-win?

    If I own a company which makes a product that contributes positively to the environment in some way without causing waste in other areas, and I can market it in a way that gets the attention of the masses by motivating them in some way, am I a greenwasher because I know I can make a buck off of it?

    Naysayers who are not into the environmental movement need proper motivation for them to change their habits. Say you have two products that do the same job and both are better for the environment, but cost less money than the competition. Product A markets themselves as being the “green” alternative. Product B promotes as the cost effective alternative. My guess is that Product B will outsell Product A because of proper motivation.

    That being said, I would never encourage anyone to buy a new hybrid vehicle. I tell people they’re much better off buying a fuel efficient used car, but sometimes the approach is different. I might tell one person they’ll never make back the money in fuel savings that they overpaid for the the car in the first place. Or I might tell another person that the environmental impact of buying a new hybrid far exceeds the benefits of using one. Again, its all knowing what motivates people, but then I am a marketer at heart.

    Ok, diatribe over.

  3. I don’t see why it matters if an individual is greenwashing if they aren’t making money off appearing to be environmentally friendly.

  4. I disagree that environmentalism has to be an all or nothing scenario, and if we don’t do it all, all the time, we’re not ‘truly committed.’ I don’t buy organic produce all the time, but I line dry my clothes, don’t eat meat, bring reused containers to the bulk bins, take the train to work. An individual’s total impact isn’t easy to measure, and even if it were, environmentalism is not a contest or an exclusive club.

    I suspect that this Puritan version of environmentalism would be very off-putting idea to someone new to the green movement, and that doesn’t seem very effective to me.

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