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Greenwashing: A Deceptive Marketing Strategy to Promote a Positive Environment Impact Perception

YijunW CA, United States 0 Ratings 53 Discussions 0 Group posts

Posted by: YijunW

What is Greenwashing

You might have heard of whitewashing, which is a metaphor for covering up crimes or scandals by a biased presentation of facts. But you probably have not heard of greenwashing or green sheen, a compound word modelled on whitewashing (The Age of Persuasion and Libertypost). It is a deceptive marketing strategy used to promote the perception that an organization aims for positive environmental friendly impacts (Kahle). Evidence of greenwashing comes from the behavior that a company spends considerably more capital or time on advertising being "green" than actually implementing environmentally sound practices.

The term greenwashing was first used by a New York environmentalist Jay Westervelt in a 1986 essay about the hotel industry's practice of putting placards in each room calling for reuse of towels seemingly to "save the environment (ABS-CNB news)." However, as Westervelt noted, these hotels did very little or no effort toward diminishing energy waste.

In the United States, the Federal Trade Commission provides voluntary guidelines for environmental marketing claims, which give the FTC the right to prosecute misleading and false advertisements.

Tips to avoid the pitfalls
Being able to differentiate green from the greenwash has become a necessity for U.S. consumers. Here are some tips on how to spot greenwash, provided on BuildingGreen.
1) Green by Association
A company promotes itself in environmental terms and images so that even though products are beneficial to the environment, consumers associate them with positive environmental impacts.
2) Definition Deficiency
Pay attention to environmental claims that are vague and general. For instance: product A is non-toxic or without hazardous chemicals. Many chemicals are non-toxic when you touch it but toxic when you ingest. A radiant barrier paint product is promoted as having a substantially high R-value*, but the advertisement does not mention that it only insulates that well when it is installed on NASA spacecraft.
3) Unproven Claims
A company claims stuff that has no evidence to back up. For instance, a company says that it recently increase its products' recycled content, but doesn't prove it.

We certainly want to avoid being green-washed, but we do not want to erroneously blame the true green company. Keep in mind that we would like to support the green building community after all.

* R-value is the capacity of an insulating material to resist heat flow. The higher the R-value, the greater the insulating power.

To read more, please visit:
The Age of Persuasion (January 8, 2011). "Season 5: It's Not Easy Being Green: Green Marketing". CBC Radio.
"LP: 'The biggest environmental crime in history'".
Kahle, Lynn R.; Gurel-Atay, Eda, eds. (2014). Communicating Sustainability for the Green Economy. M.E. Sharpe. ISBN 9780765636812.
"Beware of green marketing, warns Greenpeace exec". ABS-CBN News. 2008-09-17.



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