Greenwashing: What is It?

For many people, one part of being a responsible consumer is to figure out which companies do their best by the environment and then if at all possible to give your money to them.  You’ll find that this is an excellent way to choose where your money goes and to do your part for the environment.  However, this method of choosing a company has become well-known to marketers and advertisers, and you’ll find that there is a lot of hype and some blatant lies, which is where we get the term greenwashing from.

Essentially, greenwashing refers to the process where the company spends far more time advertising about how environmentally responsible it is, rather than taking the steps needed to be responsible.  The term is derived from the phrase whitewashing, where something is made less negative than it really is, even if if no change has been made and the end result is still the same. 

One of the most unfortunate aspects of greenwashing is that it is quit difficult to regulate.  While there have been hearings by the Federal Trade Commissions in Washington DC regarding how terms like “green” can be used, it will be some time before we have a hard and fast definition of what a company needs to adhere to and how they should act if they are going to call themselves environmentally friendly.  Until these definitions are legalized and set into motion, any company can call itself green, with little or no consequences.

The question then becomes, how can you find out if a company is greenwashing?  The only answer at this  juncture in time is to do your own research.  You’ll find that there are many resources online and off that can help steer you towards the companies that are really making a difference, and moreover, you’ll find that this information will encourage you to make your own decision.  For instance, the University of Oregon has teamed up with EnviroMedia Social Marketing to create resources to help investors understand the practices of the companies that they are putting their money into.

When you are looking to make sure that the choices that you make are really eco-friendly and not just the results of a dedicated campaign of greenwashing, take the time to do your own research and come to your own conclusions, not the ones that the marketers tell you are true.  You’ll find that doing your own research can go a long way towards making sure that your choices suit your own philosophy.

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