“It’s not easy being green.” – Kermit the Frog

In honor of Earth Day, I thought I’d write about something green—specifically, green washing. No this isn’t what happens when your three year old accidentally leaves a green crayon in his pocket and it goes through the wash.

According to Greenwashing Index, “Green washing is when a company or organization spends more time and money claiming to be “green” through advertising and marketing than actually implementing business practices that minimize environmental impact.”

I found this on SourceWatch: The U.S.-based watchdog group CorpWatch defines green wash as “the phenomena of socially and environmentally destructive corporations, attempting to preserve and expand their markets or power by posing as friends of the environment.” Ouch!!

Now, as marketers, we should absolutely be letting the world know about our efforts to create environmental sustainability. But, our efforts must be in the context of our overall environmental impact. We can’t be bragging that we recycle all of our shipping cardboard when we package our own goods in non-recyclable materials.

Today’s consumers have knowledge at their fingertips. Smart consumers will be looking at your company to see what kinds of claims you make about being environmentally friendly and what you do to back up those claims. Here are some areas they will be looking for (marketers take note and test your own green marketing!):

  • Is there information available on the corporate website to back up ads or press releases? Perhaps even a sustainability section?
  • Research where the money is going. Does the company support lobbyists or PACs that are in conflict with their claims to be environmentally friendly?
  • Search the Internet for opposing views, or those who might have a “beef” with the company.
  • Do the ads mislead with words or graphics? Is the green claim vague or hard to prove? Does the ad exaggerate the claim?
  • Does the ad or claim leave out information that makes the company seem greener than it is? Do they try to divert attention from something else the company does?
  • Does the company backup green claims with objective information and metrics? Do they publish a sustainability report?
  • Is their messaging consistent over time? Some companies make a big deal about starting an initiative only to have the funds pulled and reprioritized to other business efforts later.

Consumers will continue to educate themselves about harms to the environment and will continually push companies to become more earth friendly. Corporations will need to prove themselves just to stay competitive, but must do so with honesty—not just for shareholders and consumers, but for the ultimate stakeholder—planet earth!

Happy Earth Day!

  1. Charlie Bess of HP wrote the chapter on Green IT in my new book and you and he both underscore the increasing importance of social responsibility. Organizations will be able to distinguish themselves on the basis of green-ness on many levels. The business imperative is multifaceted, but perhaps the biggest driver is Gen Y’s increased environmental awareness.

    Great post, Terri!

    • Thanks for the comment Phil. As you can probaby see, I feel pretty strongly about corporate sustainability. It pleases me to no end that many companies are becoming much more responsible about their impact the environment and society–and I don’t think it’s just driven by Gen Y’s! I’d like to think people of our generation are as passionate too.

      One thing that bothers me a lot as a consumer is, I can’t stand to have to throw anything away. Hence, I try to recycle everything! We’re down to less than one full bag of garbage a week and I still wish it was less. Oh and don’t even get me started on going to the dump. Kills me to see what people just toss away thinking it will never be seen again. Really–how long will it take that old appliance to disappear from the face of the earth?

      Happy Earth Day!

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