Greenwashing as a Phenomenon

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Transcript of Greenwashing as a Phenomenon

Carla Christine Taljaard RFS 710 Environmental Potential

Date 30 March 2012

G R E E N WA S H I N G A S A P H E N O M E N O NINTRODUCTION This essay will examine tendencies among service and product providers to market themselves as being environmentally responsible, without actually taking steps in following such promises through. Growing environmental concern among consumers is a reassuring fact, but it can become detrimental to the environment if uninformed consumers choose and support corporations that are not as environmentally conscious as they appear. It will also investigate the counter-actions by watchdog groups to expose greenwashing practices, and how effective these strategies has been in forcing dirty corporations to change their unsustainable ways. PROBLEM STATEMENT Environmental concern has become fashionable. Karliner refers to polls done in 1989 indicating that 77% of american consumers based their product choice on the environmental reputation of a company. (Karliner 2001) In order to gain the approval and support of the environmentally conscious, marketing strategies had to become more appealing in an environmental way to gain support from this emerging market. Unfortunately many corporations only focus on creating an image of ecological responsibility. This is accomplished with complicated advertising strategies as well as partnerships with non-prot environmental movements, but without substantial change in actual policies or practices. Mander found that in 1969 alone, public utilities spent more than $300 million on advertising. This was eight times more than what they were spending on the research they were touting in their ads. He further goes on to say that these processes were destroying the word ecology and all understanding of the concept. (Mander p.47 cited in Karliner 2001) As William Laufer correctly points out: The very rms that wash their reputation through public relations, complex front coalitions, sponsored think tanks and who publicly lead the ght against global warming, nuclear waste and water pollution, remain some of the worst corporate offenders. (Laufer p.257) This essay will examine some of these rms, the type of claims and advertisements they make, and the affect this has on consumers and the environment. DEFINITION Greenwashing is a complex marketing strategy that abuses the environmental concerns of naive consumers in order to appeal to a growing market. Before the term greenwashing was generally accepted in the 1990s, it was known as Ecopornography, a term formulated by Jerry Mander, an advertising executive in his article: Ecopornography: One Year and Nearly a Billion Dollars Later, Advertising Owns Ecology which appeared in Communication and Arts Magazine in 1972. (Devauld & Green 2010) Mander explained that Ecopornography was the systemic attempt by a corporation to dissuade (consumers) of the severity of the ecological crisis and their involvement in it (Eco-Pornography 2010) According to Robert Lamb, the term greenwashing was derived from the term whitewashing which is deceptive or specious words or actions intended to conceal defects or to gloss over failings (Lamb 2008). The term greenwashing rst appeared in a critical essay about the hotel industry and its abuse of the green movements popularity by environmentalist Jay Westerveld in 1986 (Hayward 2009, cited in Devauld & Green 2010) In1990 it was taken up in the English Oxford Concise Dictionary and is now dened as disinformation disseminated by an organization so as to present an environmentally responsible public image. (1999) CorpWatch expanded this denition to: The phenomenon of socially and environmentally destructive corporations attempting to preserve and expand their markets by posing as friends of the environment and leaders in the struggle to eradicate poverty. Or any attempt to brainwash consumers or policy makers into believing polluting mega-corporations are the key to environmentally sound sustainable development. (CorpWatch 2001)

HOW GREENWASHING WORKS According to William Laufer, dirty companies shift the focus and attention away from the rm, create confusion, undermine credibility, criticize alternatives and deceptively posture rm objections, commitments and accomplishments. (Laufer 2003 p.257) He then elaborates on this theory and divides this deception into three categories: confusion, fronting and posturing. Confusion is easily created by virtue of the complex corporate form as well as the complexity of environmental issues. Fronting is the representation of council, ethics ofcers and committees, while posturing tries to convince internal and external customers and stakeholders of the organizations collective commitment to ethics. (Beder 1997, cited in Laufer p.257) By abusing the above complexities, polluting corporations are successful in convincing consumers that they are leaders in the ght for the environment. Few consumers questions the validity of these claims, and even if they turn out to be false, do not know what can be done about it. The Seven Sins of Greenwashing In 2007 Terrachoice Environmental Marketing Inc. conducted its rst survey of the validity of environmental claims made on products available in six box-stores. Based on the ndings, six patterns of greenwashing was established, and subsequently called the Six Sins of Greenwashing. (Terrachoice 2007) In 2009, the survey established a seventh sin. (Terrachoice 2009) The sins are: Sin of the Hidden Trade-Off: These claims are usually not false, but suggests a product is green based on solely one or a very narrow set of attribute(s), without reference to other important environmental issues. An example is paper companies that promote recycled content with no reference to to manufacturing impacts like air and water emissions. Sin of No Proof: Claims that cannot be substantiated by easily accessible supporting information or third party certication. Examples include facial tissues that claim post-consumer recycled content without any evidence. Sin of Irrelevance: Environmental claims that are truthful, but unimportant and unhelpful thereby distracting the consumer from the real environmental issue at hand. i.e. promoting products as CFC-free. This is irrelevant, as CFC has been banned and no products may contain it. (One can not promote abiding by the law as an environmental advantage.) Sin of Lesser of two Evils: Agreen qualier that may be true, are placed on a product of which the entire category is of questionable environmental value. For example organic tobacco or green pesticides. Sin of Vagueness: Claims that are so poorly dened or broad that the meaning is likely to be misunderstood by the consumer. These claims include wording such as Chemical-free, Non-toxic, Environmentally friendly or All natural Sin of Fibbing: Claims that are untrue. They include misrepresentation of certication i.e. Certied Organic shampoo, where there is no proof of such certication or a caulking product that claims to be Energy Star registered, but no record of this exists on the website. Sin of Worshipping false labels: This sin only emerged in the 2009 survey. Products that claims some sort of certication without there being any. Figure 1 is a graph from the Terrachoice 2010 family brochure, and indicates which of these offenses were mostly committed, and how greenwashing tendencies changed from 2007 and 2010.

TerrachoiceThe occurence of greenwashing sins from 2007 to 2010. www.sinsofgreenwashing.org

Although these ndings are based on products available in stores, if is a good indication of statements that are generally effective in promoting any kind of service or product that are actually guilty of environmentally irresponsible actions. It also proves that consumers are easily fooled by empty environmental words such as natural or non-toxic. It may also suggest that consumers do not want to feel guilty about their purchases or choices, but also do not want to make too big an effort to investigate the validity of claims, and are satised with such claims. The same patterns are also seen in the marketing campaigns of big polluters like Shell and BP. These companies employ the very same tactics as the producers of smaller goods like facial tissues to promote themselves as being environmentally conscious while they are actually responsible for major pollution. The tactics just becomes more specialized and complex, with enormous amounts of money invested in keeping the companys image green. A classic example of a greenwashing advertisement is the Shell dont throw anything away campaign. Shells 1998 Prots and Principles booklet invited serious critique for some of its statements, including Its all part of out commitment to sustainable development. Deeper into the booklet one nds what Kenny Bruno calls a nugget of truth: ...a sustainable oil company is a contradiction in terms. The booklet has since been updated to remove the phrase. (Bruno 2002, p11) Shell advertisements make use of classic public relation tactics, like using deceptive language and images and avoiding the real issues. These tactics claim to be environmentally conscious and hold its stakeholders wishes as a priority, often claiming to place this responsibility in the same sphere as its bottom line. (Devauld p3.) The following is an excerpt from Shells Business Principles, that was published in 1978. (Devauld & Green 2010) ...we commit to contribute to sustainable development. This requires balancing short and long term interests, integrating economic, environmental and social considerations into business decision-making. (p.3) According to Bakir 2006, this language shows the company as noncommittal, consisting of empty promises and reliance on greenwash language like balancing, environmental considerations and sustainable development. (Bakir 2006 cited in Devauld & Green 2010) The text in the right corner reads