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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
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In July 2000, British Petroleum launched a $200 million advertising campaign introducing the world to its new slogan "Beyond Petroleum." A new green shield logo was also introduced. The campaign stated that BP was producing cleaner fuels, that it was exploring more solar energy and that it was investing millions of dollars into alternative fuels. While all of those may have been true, the company had a questionable environmental record in the past and in 2006 was responsible for an oil spill of more than 200,000 gallons at the transit lines in Prudhoe Bay, Alaska.

Reaching the green consumer
Greenwashing can also come in more subtle means, like chemical plants hiding smokestacks behind a thick barrier of trees or landscaping their office buildings with beautiful, green foliage. Other companies actually paint their buildings and equipment green and use animals or natural elements as logos. Multinational corporations can even relocate their hazardous chemical production to developing countries where environmental standards are lax. Some companies simply make a donation to an environmental organization, then publicize it through press releases or advertisements.

Oil companies emerged as the earliest and most prolific 'greenwashers.'

Shepp says that because we are still in the era of developing standards, many companies use their own corporate social responsibility, or CSR, reports to tout how sustainable and environmentally responsible they are. The problem is that many reports and claims don't have third-party verification. Many nongovernmental organizations are highly suspicious and critical of CSRs, which they say are usually nothing more than corporate "spin."

"When you see companies creating their own certifications and labels, those are the ones to be questioned. They all have these CSRs but a lot of them don't hold water when tested academically," says Shepp.

While greenwashing is often used by large corporations to present a greener image or to mask environmental issues, it can also be used subtly to sell regular products on the shelves. There are a number of consultants and marketing firms that focus on reaching out to the green crowd, often through the use of green words and phrases. Then there is the packaging where trees, plants or natural images can often be used to imply greenness or a sense of eco-responsibility. Many companies put their own logos on the back near ingredient lists to claim that a product is "earth-friendly," "natural" or "safe for the environment."

LeBel says that companies market their true green products by packaging and communicating with the customer. Because green consumers often care about where products originate, companies need to publicize their stories and show any third-party certifications that they may have.

More than 150,000 plastic bottles of shampoo are used every year in a single 300-room Las Vegas hotel.

By going green, or at least creating an impression of greenness, companies are selling a philosophy and a set of values to the consumer. Tucson, Ariz., resident Brenda Lee Kozuch has always had an interest in green products, but has become more educated and aware of the matters over the years. Her shopping habits range from buying cloth diapers for her child to eco-friendly clothing and clean products that she purchases over the Internet.

"For me and my family, it's mostly for the health reasons and to lessen my impact on the environment. It goes pretty far for me," says Kozuch.

-- Posted: Oct. 4, 2007
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