How To Detect Greenwashing

Research by TerraChoice, an environmental marketing company, found that nearly all the marketing claims made for consumer products are misleading or false in some way or other. Businesses tend to employ greenwashing tactics to support internal goals such as making the enterprise more attractive to potential investors who are looking to invest in socially responsible businesses, to expend market share at the expense of competitors who do not greenwash, to persuade critics such as NGOs that the company have changed their ways and they are well-intentioned and to divert the attention of major regulators and deflate pressure for regulatory change.

Given the incentives to create false green claims, consumers should be mindful of potential greenwashing tactics in the course of making purchase decisions.

Know the 7 Common Sins of Greenwashing

The very first thing consumers need to understand is that greenwashing exists and that environmentally friendly claims may not be true. Knowing the 7 common sins of greenwashing can make consumers understand different levels and kinds of greenwash and as a result, be in a better position to detect its presence.

Use the Greenwashing Index

The University of Oregon and  Enviromedia Social Marketing together have set up the Greenwashing Index (http://www.greenwashingindex.com/) to help consumers decide whether any given marketing claim is greenwashing or not. This platform encourages consumers to post ads that promote any environmental qualities of a company or product. Once the ads are placed, the other users in the community rate the claim in scale of 1 to 5 with 1 being authentic and 5 being completely bogus.

So, someone who places the ad can come back after a few days and see the score of that ad or claim. So, anyone visiting the site can check all the ads and rate the claims.

Use the CARE Test of GreenPeace

After realizing the fact that all the eco-friendly ad claims are not true, GreenPeace encouraged consumers to check four very important indicators to know if a company’s ad or claim is “Green” or “Greenwash”.

CARE stands for Core business; Advertising record; Research & development funding; and Environmental lobbying.

Core Business: Core business of CARE refers to the main business activity of a company. If any given company’s core business is something that contributes to environmental pollution or destruction and the company still claims to be environmentally friendly, then the claim will surely be a greenwash.

Advertising Record/ Practice: When the advertising budget of a company is huge and the company spends that huge amount to justify that it has all the right practices, there is every chance the company is trying to greenwash. Any advertising budget more than what should be normal thus make an ad campaign suspicious of Greenwash.

Research and Development (R&D): These days, almost all large and medium corporations invest huge amount in research and development. The test in this regard should be to identify if that amount is allocated to developing more sustainable practices or just to reinforce old unsustainable practices.

Environmental Lobbying Record: Companies that say one thing and do something different do the entire industry an injustice. Say for an example, a company presents itself as a pro-environmental business but lobbies against measures that are designed to protect environment.

So, any pro-environmental claim by that company ought to be greenwash.

As a final note, there is no perfect tool to measure if a pro-environmental claim is greenwash or not. Still the approaches listed above can play an important role in helping to identify dubious claims, as can accredited external analysis offered by such approaches as Lifecycle Analysis. For companies looking to market their products in a spirit of accuracy, the FTC's Green Guides can help. Ultimately, it is left to consumers in their efforts to identify if a claim is a greenwash or not.  

References

http://www.finishing-school.net/psa/newgreen/greenwash.html

http://www.greenwashingindex.com/