Greenwashing is the general term used to describe the practice of companies who are engaging in what they claim to be environmentally friendly activities, without actually doing so. A great example of this is BP, the company renamed itself beyond ‘Beyond Petroleum’ and ‘AirBus’ claiming that their A380 provides ‘a better environment inside and out’.
In both of these cases the implications were that the company actively promoted environmentally friendly activities, claiming they were doing their bit to help the environment. The truth was that they just came up with clever slogans to create positive association towards ethical and fair trading.
It seems that businesses are using mass marketing techniques to convince consumers that their companies are green and are picking up on the kudos associated with it.
It’s important to point out that not all companies are this cynical. There are thousands of companies that are genuinely green and ethical, either because they have realised the profitability of it or they really want to make a difference. Green companies usually offer a wide range of products and services such as solar panels, exhibition stands, cleaning products, make up, etc. It is not always easy to tell if a company is really telling the truth about their services and products, just because they are claiming to be green doesn’t mean they are or are working to be green.
Believe it or not some companies falsely claim to be green, many genuine green companies don’t make any claims at all. It seems that too many companies are acting unethical in their claims, the claims should be looked at more seriously. A great example of this is a company that makes a big deal of using less paper in its offices when it is probably trying to pass off a cost saving measure as a green one. As a general rule it is best to be cynical of green claims unless you can find an authoritative, independent source endorsing them. The combination of environmentalism and cost saving is in no way a bad thing when they coincide, but promoting such decisions as green is dubious at best.
An essential part of greenwashing is the focus of one part of a product’s lifecycle where a company happens to use a green practise. For example if a company made commercial spoons using recycled steel that’s great, even if it’s only because scrap metal is cheaper. But if producing them in a third world factory pumping out toxic waste and greenhouse gasses before it is then flown to another country for packaging and then sold in a third on the other side of the world, you don’t have green product. To be truly green every stage of the manufacturing process (Product lifecycle) has to be environmentally friendly.
For a product to be green every stage of its manufacturing process and preferably every stage of its lifecycle have to be environmentally friendly. If possible an organisation should be able to show how much waste is produced during the whole lifecycle and also how much of the waste is disposed or recycled. If you would like to check on an organisation or a product to see ifs It is doing its bit then visit and read environmental blogs as they are best sources for real unbiased information.
If you are not sure about using green certification within your business you need to be careful. There are several ‘green’ certifications which are either the invention of a marketing department or just simply unenforced. Some people have turned to the internet to gain certification cheaply and quickly, companies can complete a questionnaire online and pay a small sum to get a badge claiming that they are green/ethical without actually assessing the individual claim. The Green Wiki has a fantastic post on genuine certificates for different industries, there are lots of certificates, such as ISO 14001, LEED and FSC amongst others, which are genuine. Always remember that some certifications are a good indicator, remember to check the awarding body.
I hope this guide will help you recognise any potential greenwasher companies in the future. AT the end of the day it’s these people and organisations that are damaging the environmental movement’s credibility, green companies’ credibility and most importantly the environment.