[Photo credits displayed at end of article]
As consumers become more interested in the need to protect our environment, corporations recognize this and are taking advantage of our desire to make environmentally friendly changes.
What some corporations are doing is greenwashing – A practice where companies create an environmentally friendly image to the public to boost sales.
At the same time, they downplay or ignore harmful corporate policies and the hidden dangers in their products.
The following list highlights some of what I find most offensive.
Help spread the word!
Clorox Green Works
In January 2008, Clorox launched a new line of cleaning products called Green Works. They claim their line is “at least 99 percent natural”. What’s in the other 1 percent?
One answer: Kathon, a petroleum-derived preservative used in Clorox’s Green Works product line. They also use the unregulated term “natural” to define their product rather than having a legitimate third-party certification.
Nestle’s Poland Springs “Eco Shaped” water bottle
Yes it uses 30 percent less plastic than traditional bottles, but the energy that goes into creating and transporting bottled water is wasteful. Plus most recyclable bottles end up buried in landfills and may never breakdown .
Nestle recently secured a permit to extract millions of liters of groundwater in Ontario, Canada despite concerns of surface water being drawn underground as a result.
From British Petroleum to Beyond Petroleum, this company successfully spent tens of millions on an aggressive ad campaign highlighting how they will fuel the future cleanly while creating a green image. Their ads fail to mention how much they pollute and how little they spend on alternative energy despite record profits.
In 2007, BP decided to invest in Canada’s oil sands despite the company’s self-imposed ban on the production of crude oil from tar sands. This change in policy has led Greenpeace to state that this is “the biggest environmental crime in history.”
Toyota claims all the green credibility in the automotive sector due to its hybrid Prius and their Why Not? ad campaign that asks, “Can a car company grow in harmony with the environment? Why not?” They forget to mention that they lobbied against improved fuel economy standards until pressured from thousands of customers and environmental groups.
Aveda is a company that highlights the natural content of its beauty products and sustainable production methods. However, many of its products contain the same harmful chemicals as their competitors.
Just take a look at the contents in their hairspray.
This lawn fertilizer company, has created a new line of products called EcoSense to counter the damage done by their synthetic products. Fertilizers end up in lakes and rivers causing serious damage to the ecosystem. Pesticides accumulate in human tissue and can cause serious health problems. This has led to lawn chemical bans in many places.
Scott’s plans to counter this by selling vinegar in a bottle as a weed killer.
Wal-Mart is an easy target for just about anything. They have made significant efforts in reducing energy use and waste throughout their operations. However, their entire business model relies on people buying cheap, imported products and driving to their stores to get them. Also, since they are such a massive business, many of their initiatives could be driven by cost and public relations (PR) rather than environmental concerns.
Exxon is another easy target.
They recently launched a new ad campaign basically recognizing climate change and their concerns. Exxon has continually funded groups that have attempted to discredit climate change science rather than scientifically disprove it or find solutions.
Let’s not forget the Exxon Valdez oil spill and their court battles trying to evade paying damages.
A Supreme Court ruling allowed Exxon to get off with only paying 500 million dollars in damages, the equivalent of a week’s profit!
Ikea generally gets good marks on the environment but they have sent me junk mail that promotes their parking spaces reserved for hybrids or cars that get specified mileage. Just another retailer that relies on and promotes the suburban, consumer lifestyle.
The Nuclear Power Industry
The Nuclear Power Industry gets full marks for greenwashing by promoting themselves as an alternative energy source because they do not emit greenhouse gases while generating electricity. In Canada they promote themselves as clean, reliable and affordable.
I’m not an expert on the reliable, but I don’t consider nuclear waste clean nor do I consider multi-billion dollar plants that run over budget to be affordable. Maybe they are creating a new mythology about nuclear energy.
Greenwashing is spreading to about every product or service. Businesses are realizing that promoting any “green” aspect to their products enhances their brand and can generate sales. Consumers can vote with their wallets and call out the companies that greenwash so we can weed out the weak claims and increase credibility for the real green businesses.
As always, buyer beware.
Photo credits in order
Greenwashing by dsain (Creative Commons)
Poland Springs “New Eco-Shape Bottle” by Clampants(Creative Commons)
Giving It Up for GAS by bitzcelt(Creative Commons)