Green Manolo » Word of the Day: Greenwashing

Word of the Day: Greenwashing

By Christa

In Monday’s post, I briefly touched on how easy it is to shop green but it deserves more than a mention. I can buy everything from organic k-cups to bamboo end tables to fair trade blouses right on Amazon, not to mention in lots and lots of shops. Buying earth-friendly and worker-friendly stuff is pretty easy these days, even if a fair trade or organic label often comes with a higher price tag.

Or is it easier?

There’s obviously nothing wrong with shopping thoughtfully or choosing not to put certain chemicals on or in your body, and there’s nothing inherently wrong with buying the things you need or want. But if you’re going to be paying a premium for a product because it claims to be green or at the very least greener, it’s a good idea to look into whether it’s actually as green as it says it is.

That’s where greenwashing comes in. A lot of products are advertised as being environmentally-friendly or sustainable or ethical because that sells almost as well as sex these days, but plenty of those products are no better for the planet or for people than anything else. Here are some great examples from Wikipedia:

  • The Comcast ecobill has the slogan of “PaperLESSisMORE” but Comcast uses large amounts of paper for direct marketing.
  • Kimberly Clark’s claim of “Pure and Natural” diapers in green packaging, with the same petrochemical gel on the inside.
  • The Poland Spring ecoshape bottle is touted as “A little natural does a lot of good”, although 80% of beverage containers go to the landfill.
  • The Airbus A380 airliner is described as “A better environment inside and out” even though air travel has a high negative environment cost.
  • Coal is now advertised as a clean, eco option.

My guess? You already know all about greenwashing, but I still thought it was a good idea to toss a little reminder at you. It’s just too easy these days to get swayed by people and companies making all kinds of claims about how their products are better for the planet or better for people. Particularly when the argument seems so logical or you have so many options that things start to get confusing.

Take, for example, home espresso machines, which are often advertised as a greener option than a trip to the coffee shop. Sounds plausible, no? But coffee shops buy in bulk, often use organic fair trade beans, can sometimes return packaging to suppliers, and may use real dishware, plus their overall energy impact is spread over many, many customers. So DIY espresso with a big machine is cheaper in the long run, but not necessarily greener.

But wait! What about espresso makers that don’t use electricity, like the AeroPress or your basic stovetop espresso maker? Then there’s the Presso Espresso, which is apparently entirely recyclable. Wouldn’t one of the those be the truly greenest option – if perhaps the tiniest bit more labor intensive? And so on – you get the idea.

So what examples of greenwashing have you encountered lately?

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