Greenwashing

Be Honest in Your Ecomarketing

Wired Magazine features, each month, a fun little feature called “Jargon Watch.” In that interesting editorial the enterprising writers of the leading-edge technology journal scour the ever-changing global lexicon for new terms that are being invented to define and describe our lives in 2008 and beyond. The new terms– actual words, actually being used– are most often pulled from the high-tech scene or the continually shrinking global culture. More and more though, new terms and phrases are popping up to clarify our relationship with the reality of climate change.

For example, an ecosexual is someone who is into green living as a fashion statement. CRAGS are carbon rationing action groups. Gorelets are the low-flow, double-flush toilets promoted by the Clinton-Gore administration. You get the picture. People are actually saying this stuff.

Greenwashing, it turns out, is a kind of green marketing where companies try to convince audiences to become customers because they’re somehow ecologically responsible. There’s no doubt that companies should leverage any marketable difference that they have against the competition as long as they’re honest in doing so.

EVERYBODY’S GREEN
Honesty includes not positioning a product or service as being good for the environment just because it’s not inherently bad for the environment. Some ad campaigns are even making claims that their products are green when they are anything but. When companies make claims that insult the buying public, marketing campaigns backfire– when they claim they’re green and they’re not, consumers become skeptical… or worse.

Worldwide environmental advocate, Greenpeace is so concerned about the practice of greenwashing that they’ve turned their watchdog expertise to national advertising campaigns. On their website, stopgreenwash.org– which points up examples of this type of less than honest advertising– greenwashing is defined as “the act of misleading consumers regarding the environmental practices of a company or the environmental benefits of a product or service.”

H 2 OMG
Some advertising is blatantly exaggerating and misrepresenting an environmental achievement in order to divert attention away from an environmental problem… see a certain bottled water that now uses less plastic and a smaller label but still sells an unsustainable product in a wasteful container. These are the kinds of culprits that Greenpeace’s website routinely showcases.

“Every day, Americans are bombarded with advertising about environmentally friendly goods and services,” the site reads, “But how many really are green, and how many are just pretending?”

Businesses (and their marketing partners) must be truthful about exactly what they’re selling. When your company makes an ecological advancement you should leverage it in your marketing campaign without using it to misrepresent, mislead or divert. A growing group of consumers who care about real environmental impact reduction is resisting and even boycotting the companies that perpetrate this type of advertising.

SMART CUSTOMERS
Greenwashing diminishes the value of legitimate corporate environmental successes and ultimately results in consumer and regulatory complacency. The number of people concerned about climate change continues to grow, and those savvy consumers are not convinced that the business sector is keeping pace.

GreenBiz.com synopsizes a solution nicely when they write, “Companies need to understand their customers’ different views on climate change and then find ways to act and communicate that are relevant to their consumers and their brands.”

Indeed, companies everywhere should be rewarded for eco-innovations, but they also have to be careful not to overstate their value. Until companies, and any ecosexuals who represent them, start to market their green by accurately communicating the consumer value, customers will continue to be skeptical.

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