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The Greenwash Guide


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Greenwash is alive and well across the globe.

Today’s consumers are swamped with “eco-friendly” advertising and marketing messages that simply don’t come clean in the wash.

Greenwash occurs when marketers seek to entice customers through unsubstantiated, fabricated or exaggerated environmental claims.

In a market economy where the “green dollar” is a powerful force, we are swimming in products and services supposedly rich with environmental or sustainability benefits.

But amid all the noise of organisations “going green”, why should we even care whether a few fibs are told along the way?

As Futerra say in The Greenwash Guide:

“Greenwash isn’t simply annoying, it’s dangerous.”

As consumers, we rely on advertising and other forms of messaging to help us choose goods and services. We have the right to accurate information to empower our consumption decisions. Even though it sometimes happens by mistake, greenwash is essentially lying (ok, maybe that’s a bit harsh).

The point is, who wants to believe a liar or a fool, let alone give them our hard-earned money?

One of the key impacts of greenwash is reduced consumer confidence. According to a report by Consumers International (2007), only 10% of consumers trust the green information provided by organisations (government and business alike). In a market environment afloat with lies, doubt and distrust, consumers are less inclined to purchase “green” products for fear of being taken for a ride.

This puts the entire market for the “green dollar” in jeopardy. It risks damaging the virtuous circle of companies who are green – for real.  As Futerra rightly claim:

“Greenwash is the spanner in the works that could sabotage the whole environmental movement within business”.

It’s perhaps no surprise that water and energy providers top the list of greenwash suspects.

According to the UK’s Advertising Standards Association (2009), utility companies are proven favourites for greenwash complaints by consumers. The motor industry isn’t far behind. And, of course, household products are a prime candidate for greenwasher of the year.

In spite of the proliferation of greenwash in the marketplace, we stand at the edge of a potentially massive upswing in the value of the “green dollar”, potentially worth trillions worldwide each year within a decade. But if greenwashing continues on its current trajectory, the risk to consumer confidence could be catastrophic for the creation of an authentic green market that benefits people and planet alike.

As conscious consumers, we must seek to recognise and condemn greenwashed products.

We must “hang ‘em out to dry”, so to speak. Ever watchful, critical and deliberate in our choices, we need to put our money where our mouths are. Say no to “eco-friendly” hoo-ha. Step up to the greenwash challenge, and support products and services that are truthfully and justifiably green – or at least as green as they can be in a world where so many are simply claiming to be green.


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