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Telling Green from Dirty

How can consumers recognize fact from fiction amongst the plethora of environmental claims that soak the market? Adapted from The Greenwash Guide produced by Futerra Sustainability Communications, here are the top ten signs to watch out for when considering the purchase of “green” products or services:

Puffery: If the language is vague, chances are the environmental benefits are light on the ground as well. “Eco-friendly”…what on earth does that mean?

Silly symbolism: Using suggestive pictures is all well and good, but cute and irrelevant images don’t cut it.  Cartoon flowers floating skyward from a car’s exhaust? C’mon, give us a break.

Irrelevant claims: No amount of emphasis on the smallest green attribute will make up for a product that is overall “un-green”.

Best in class?: To be the champion in a field of green losers isn’t being a green champion at all.

Not doable, not credible: “Eco-friendly” machine-guns anyone? No amount of green will make a dangerous product safe. Cigarettes are a case in point.

Gobbledygook: If you have to be a rocket scientist to understand the jargon, chances are the product doesn’t have the green consumer in mind.

Imaginary friends: It might look like a third party endorsement…but does it have a name? Is it really there? Or is it just a figment of someone’s imagination?

Where’s the proof: It could be right, it might be right, but where’s the evidence?

Green products v dirty company: If a big polluting company promotes its products as sustainable, chances are the products are barely “sustainable” at all.

Total fabrications:  Otherwise known as outright lying.

It goes without saying that not every marketer is deliberately misleading. In fact, most greenwashing occurs because of ignorance or laziness, rather than ill-intent. People just need to wise up. Marketers need to be aware of the language they use to promote their products and services, particularly at a time when it’s crucial that our environmental messages be credible.

In an age of techno-outreach, it’s also important that consumers be aware of cyber greenwashing. Otherwise known as “astroturfing”, this particular phenomenon is gaining momentum online – with potentially damaging effects.

According to Wikipedia, “astroturfing” is “a form of advocacy in support of a political, organizational, or corporate agenda, designed to give the appearance of a “grassroots” movement. The goal of such campaigns is to disguise the efforts of a political or commercial entity as an independent public reaction to another political entity—a politician, political group, product, service or event.” The term “astroturfing” is a wordplay inspired by “Astro-Turf”, a bright green synthetic carpet designed to look like natural grass.

Needless to say, “astroturfing” (like greenwashing) undermines consumer and citizen confidence. It feeds into a web of deceit that ultimately yields distrust; it results in the public turning away from the green agenda toward the comfort zone they previously inhabited.

So whether you’re in the supermarket or online, watch out for the sustainability charlatans and green wannabes, the enviro-fakers and eco-manipulators, the people and organisations who want you to believe they are something that – ultimately – they are not.

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