Products hyped as 'green' often fall short
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
"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.