Environmentally friendly (also eco-friendly, nature friendly, and green) are synonyms used to refer to goods and services considered to inflict minimal or no harm on the environment. To make consumers aware, environmentally friendly goods and services often are marked with eco-labels. But because there is no single international standard for this concept, the International Organization for Standardization considers such labels too vague to be meaningful.
After the introduction of Germany’s Blue Angel in 1978 as the first worldwide environmental label, other European and non-European countries followed this example and introduced their own national and supra-regional environmental labels. The common goal of these labels is to inform consumers about environmentally friendly products thereby giving global support to product-related environmental protection.
In 1994, some countries cooperated in developing the Global Ecolabelling Network (GEN) – a non-profit interest group composed of ecolabel organizations throughout the world. Neither official standard nor criteria in labeling has been set in South Africa. So is the “Go Green” revolution in South Africa being exploited by unscrupulous companies and organizations wanting to turn a quick buck from misleading labels, advertising and promotions to the conscious consumer?
Some people claim that many of the chemicals inside of domestic and commercial cleaning products used cause harm and damage to the environment and humans through production, use or disposal of those products. While this is a disputed statement it is generally held that natural products and cleaners are of a better benefit for the environment and safer for those who use and are exposed to them which has led to Green Cleaning products being developed.
There is however controversy over the exact definition of green for such cleaners and solvents which has resulted in many companies marketing products as environmentally friendly or green which may not meet some of the basic guidelines for eco-friendly products such as containing high amounts of artificial chemicals. It is these products which are marketed as being environmentally friendly, eco-friendly or green when they do not meet the general guidelines of a green product which results in Greenwashing; changing the image of a product to make it appeal to environmentally minded consumers when in fact the product is not produced, used or able to be disposed in an environmentally friendly manner.
Greenwashing is a term used to describe the practice of companies disingenuously spinning their products and policies as environmentally friendly, such as by presenting cost cuts as reductions in use of resources. It is a deceptive use of green PR or green marketing. The term green sheen has similarly been used to describe organizations that attempt to show that they are adopting practices beneficial to the environment.
Greenwashing was coined by NY environmentalist Jay Westerveld in an essay regarding the hotel industry’s practice of placing green placards in each room, promoting reuse of guest-towels, ostensibly to “save the environment”. Westerveld noted that, in most cases, little or no effort toward waste recycling was being implemented by these institutions, due in part to the lack of cost-cutting affected by such practice. Westerveld opined that the actual objective of this “green campaign” on the part of many hoteliers was, in fact, increased profit. Westerveld hence monikered this and other outwardly environmentally conscientious acts with a greater, underlying purpose of profit increase as greenwashing.
The term is generally used when significantly more money or time has been spent advertising being green (that is, operating with consideration for the environment), rather than spending resources on environmentally sound practices. This is often portrayed by changing the name or label of a product, to give the feeling of nature, for example putting an image of a forest on a bottle containing harmful chemicals. Environmentalists often use greenwashing to describe the actions of energy companies, which are traditionally the largest polluters.
Norway’s consumer ombudsman has targeted automakers who claim that their cars are “green”, “clean” or “environmentally friendly” with some of the world’s strictest advertising guidelines. Consumer Ombudsman official Bente Øverli said: “Cars cannot do anything good for the environment except less damage than others.” Manufacturers risk fines if they fail to drop the words. Øverli said she did not know of other countries going so far in cracking down on cars and the environment.
In addition, the political term “linguistic detoxification” is used by some environmentalists to describe when, through legislation or other government action, the definitions of toxicity for certain substances are changed, or the name of the substance is changed, so that fewer things fall under a particular classification as toxic. An example is the reclassification of some low-level radioactive waste as “beyond regulatory concern”, which permits it to be buried in conventional landfills. Another example is the EPA renaming sewage sludge to biosolids, and allowing it to be used as fertilizer, despite the fact that it often contains many hazardous materials including PCBs, dioxin, arsenic, cadmium, lead, and asbestos. The origin of this phrase has been attributed to environmental activist and author Barry Commoner.
Several activities designed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions may be considered merely symbolic greenwash. For example, Earth Hour encourages consumers to switch off electric appliances for 1 hour. This may make people feel good about a minor inconvenience without creating any sustained reduction in greenhouse gas emissions.
Similarly, introduction of a Carbon Emission Trading Scheme may feel good, but may be counterproductive if the cost of carbon is priced too low, or if large emitters are given ‘free credits’. For example, Bank of America subsidiary MBNA offers an Eco-Logique MasterCard for Canadian consumers that reward customers with carbon offsets as they continue using the card. Customers may feel that they are nullifying their carbon footprint by purchasing polluting goods with the card. However, only 0.5 percent of purchase price goes into purchasing carbon offsets, while the rest of the interchange fee still goes to the bank.
“Six Sins of Greenwashing”
In December 2007, environmental marketing firm TerraChoice gained national press coverage for releasing a study called “The Six Sins of Greenwashing” which found that more than 99% of 1,018 common consumer products randomly surveyed for the study were guilty of greenwashing. A total of 1,753 environmental claims made, with some products having more than one, and out of the 1,018 studied only one was found not guilty of making a false or misleading green marketing claim. According to the study, the six sins of greenwashing are:
- Sin of the Hidden Trade-Off: e.g. “Energy-efficient” electronics that contain hazardous materials. 998 products and 57% of all environmental claims committed this Sin.
- Sin of No Proof: e.g. Shampoos claiming to be “certified organic,” but with no verifiable certification. 454 products and 26% of environmental claims committed this Sin.
- Sin of Vagueness: e.g. Products claiming to be 100% natural when many naturally-occurring substances are hazardous, like arsenic and formaldehyde (see Blue Mac Toilet Fluid Datasheet). Seen in 196 products or 11% of environmental claims.
- Sin of Irrelevance: e.g. Products claiming to be CFC-free, even though CFCs were banned 20 years ago. This Sin was seen in 78 products and 4% of environmental claims.
- Sin of Fibbing: e.g. Products falsely claiming to be certified by an internationally recognized environmental standard like EcoLogo, Energy Star or Green Seal. Found in 10 products or less than 1% of environmental claims.
- Sin of Lesser of Two Evils: e.g. organic cigarettes or “environmentally friendly” pesticides, this occurred in 17 products or 1% of environmental claims.
In April 2009, TerraChoice published a second report on the subject. This report notes the emergence of a seventh Sin – the ‘Sin of Worshiping False Labels’.
- The Sin of Worshiping False Labels is committed by a product that, through either words or images, gives the impression of third-party endorsement where no such endorsement actually exists; fake labels, in other words.
In addition, the 2009 study pinpointed three areas of consumer goods with the greatest level of greenwashing: children products, cosmetics, and cleaning products. In all three cases, marketers manipulate a consumer’s safety concerns and fears by capitalizing on the supposed health and safety benefits of “green” living.
In the case of children products, one might look primarily to toys and baby products like “biodegradable” building blocks or BPA-free silverware. For cosmetics, companies often use labels such as “naturally pure” to offer a seemingly “organic” personal care product. Finally, the greenwashing in cleaning products is evident in the “biodegradable” toilet paper, or the “non-toxic” bleach, or the “100 percent recycled” paper towels.”
Across the three product platforms of marketing, vague and ambiguous labeling allows a consumer to believe he/she is purchasing a product with greater eco-friendly benefits. Yet just as greenwashing misleads, these labels do not always carry substantial accreditation or scientific backing to prove the assertions and exacerbate the backlash of green marketing.
A recent trend has emerged supporting the production of environmentally friendly clothing, such as those made out of organic cotton, hemp, bamboo, or recycled materials. Organic clothing is the least expensive of these options, and so far the most popular.
Integrated pest management is regarded as a more environmentally friendly form of pest control than traditional pesticides, as its goal is to reduce pesticide use to a minimum by using a variety of less impactive means, with pesticides only as the last resort. Biological pest control is another form of control considered by many experts to be environmentally friendly.
Recycling and composting are viewed as more environmentally friendly forms of waste management than traditional burying or burning practices. The Edmonton Composting Facility in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, in the largest composting facility in the world; representing 35% of Canada’s centralized composting capacity. The $100-million co-composter results in Edmonton recycling 65% of its residential waste.
Ever rush from the bathroom coughing and gasping from the cleaning fumes left behind after you clean the shower or tub? Those fumes and chemicals aren’t just bad for your lungs; they’re bad for the environment. Here’s why:
Long term health benefits. The majority of cleaning products are full of toxins that have lasting health results. In fact, according to data published by the Western Regional Pollution Prevention Network, six of every 100 janitorial workers injured on the job each year are hurt by the cleaning chemicals they use.
Environmental benefits. Cleaning products, we’re talking about everything from common dish soap used in your kitchen to laundry detergent to floor polish and bathroom milder removers, cause immense pollution. Not just when we use these products in our homes but also when these products are manufactured and when they’re transported from the manufacturer to the stores.
* Cleaning products pollute the air with their toxic chemicals.
* Cleaning products tossed into landfills pollute our soil having a detrimental effect on our plants and animals.
* Cleaning products pollute our water supply when they’re washed down the drain. They end up in our lakes, rivers and oceans having a negative effect on our health as well as the health of nearby wildlife.
* Cleaning products contribute to the depletion of the ozone causing global warming and a loss of resources.
We invite you to spend some time reading about the products we manufacture, market and sell and you will learn that we have put our money where our mouth is. For more information of our products please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org and we will be glad to assist you in developing a cleaner greener smarter environment to operate in.
Please assist us in compiling a list of consumer products by name and or by manufacturer who you believe are practising “Green Washing” – tell us more why this is so and we will be glad to list them on our “Green Washing Blog” as the “Green Charlatans” of commerce.