Do you remember when organic food first made its way into the mass media? In no time, the word was mass-marketed and it seemed like virtually every aisle in the grocery store had something on it that said “organic”. Surely not everything is organic simply because a label says that it is. And yet, companies are about making money and so if they think that we’ll believe it enough to buy it, then “organic” is exactly what they will call it.
Keeping with that train of thought, what’s currently getting more and more headline attention is “greenwashing”. If you’re not super familiar with the term, it basically means that what is considered to be an environmentally beneficial idea (green) is now being manipulated to pursue a capitalistic agenda (i.e., whitewashing).
Just this week, the Institute for Local Self-Reliance accused WalMart of committing greenwashing crimes citing that they have been doing things “in the name of green” to improve their reputation rather than to actually better the environment. They cited this based upon the fact that only two percent of their energy resources come from solar power and continually they donate large amounts of money to political candidates that have the environment on the bottom of their priority list.
WalMart is just one of the many companies that are coming under fire (Coke and Fritos have recently been catching some heat too). Matter of fact, it’s becoming such a hot topic that there are more people referencing the information provided on SinsofGreenwashing.org.
According to the website, the top seven “sins” of the “greenwashing movement” are: claiming a product is green based on limited attributes; claiming a product is environmentally-friendly without a substantiated proof; ill-defining the purpose of a product; claiming a product to have an endorsement that doesn’t verifiably exist; making a claim that is either irrelevant or not helpful; promoting “oxymoron” products (like a fuel-efficient utility vehicle), and products that simply lied when it came to their environmental claims, but the majority of individuals did not seek to do any research on before purchasing the product.
These kinds of allegations are not just being treated as FYIs, either. Several lawsuits are coming to light as the result of how greenwashing has kept a lot of people in the dark. Recently, the California Attorney General filed a claim against a water bottler that claimed their product was both biodegradable and recyclable when it actually wasn’t and another water bottle case in California was filed, not because of the bottle itself, but the manufacturing process that it went through.
One of the major concerns in relationship to how greenwashing will potentially affect the masses is that if people are purchasing green products that aren’t really green, can you imagine the amount of lawsuit claims that could present itself as a direct result? Some may be filed due to simple disappointment or personal inconvenience, but when it comes to products that are consumed, there could even be a Chicago personal injury law firm (or two) that could be filing based on the behalf of how greenwashing has effected a person’s personal health. Or how about businesses which think they are purchasing environmentally-friendly items when they actually aren’t? They could file a claim based on their electricity bills (that were supposed to be lower due to energy efficient products) or even foundational issues.
Greenwashing may not be a super-familiar phrase yet, but as more of us are being “green aware”, it’s just a matter of time. Therefore, businesses, be careful and buyers, beware.