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Bankrate's 2007 Living Green, Saving Green Guide
Fact & fiction
Many truths and untruths are circulating. What's true?
Fact & fiction
Products hyped as 'green' often fall short

Natural. Organic. Fresh. Clean. Good for the environment.

It seems every company out there is making some sort of reference to natural ingredients and the eco-friendliness of its products.

About 800,000 of the 1 million travel guidebooks printed annually in the U.S. end up in landfills each year and less than 200,000 are recycled.

Car commercials tout fuel efficiency; appliance stickers sell energy savings, produce boasts organic certifications, and everything from paper towels to cleaning chemicals are packaged in and made with materials that are supposedly less harmful to the environment. Even oil and chemical companies have jumped on the bandwagon with commercials about preservation and efficiency.

Natural and "green" products abound -- but with so much green advertising, it's sometimes hard to tell what's for real and who is trying to pull the recycled wool over the eyes of consumers.

Shades of green
Despite a plethora of materials and organizations dedicated to green products and services, the definition of "green" can vary between organizations and between consumers. Mic LeBel, a partner at Planet Friendly Public Relations, a firm that represents clients with green products, says "green" is often defined in the minds of the individual consumers. In general, green products uphold the values of fair trade, protecting the environment, supporting sustainable resources and paying workers a living wage.

Joey Shepp, founder and chief executive officer of the green search engine Greenmaven.com, says "green" could apply to any product, service or company that upholds "green values." Examples include organic food, fair trade coffee, organic clothing, renewable energy, LEED-certified green buildings and hybrid vehicles. Shepp says people buy green because they care about the world.

"They can see that by buying this food or product, they're actually helping the environment. It starts with a personal motivation but also moves to a larger environmental and social awareness," says Shepp.

It's sometimes hard to tell who is 'green' for real and who is trying to pull the recycled wool over the eyes of consumers.

While the origins of environmentalism can be traced back to 19th century Europe, it wasn't until post-World War II industrialization that people began to take notice of the environmental damages caused by man. By the 1980s -- with the Chernobyl meltdown and the Exxon Valdez disaster -- consumers became more aware of how corporate decisions affect their lives, their futures and the planet. As globalization took hold, stories of sweatshops, human rights abuses and environmental damages started to creep more and more into the evening news.

Some corporations, not anxious to alter their operations, instead implemented the use of "green" marketing and advertising as a means to mask or soften their images. Pratap Chatterjee, program director for CorpWatch, an investigative corporate watchdog Web site, points to the oil companies as some of the earliest and most prolific "greenwashers." Chatterjee says that Chevron's "People Do" campaign started in the 1990s is a classic example of greenwashing.

"They ran a series of ads with birds and wildlife refuges implying that Chevron was saving wildlife. There is not much that could be further from the truth," says Chatterjee. "Chevron's work in extracting petroleum involves going into places like Nigeria where they create a tremendous amount of pollution, far beyond what they would do here."

-- Posted: Oct. 4, 2007
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