IT seems like almost everything and every business has ‘gone green’ these days right from industrial bellwether to a small utility outfit. Going green is the flavour of today’s advertising and communication. So be it the shirt you wear, the pen you write or even the waste disposal container you use, manufacturers and marketers are not leaving any stone unturned to make their claim of green-ness, heard stridently and effectively. Companies are spending billions each year in an attempt to convince consumers that their operations have minimum impact on the environment and that they conduct their business in an eco-friendly and responsible manner.
In advertising parlance, this phenomenon is being called ‘greenwashing’. The term first emerged around 1990, while the practice itself dates back to the mid-1960s, when some corporations took initiatives to improve their public image, in light of the emerging environmental movements across the world.
"It is no surprise that companies compete for consumer approval by promoting themselves as environmentally friendly, green, or sustainably responsible."
So, greenwashing is the act of advertising or marketing a product or service as being eco-friendly without actually following it in their business practices and process. In a way, it signifies a wrong, unsubstantiated claim, just to attract customers. In an era where more and more people are aware and conscious about the negative impact of mindless growth, it is no surprise then that companies compete for consumer approval by promoting themselves as environmentally friendly, green, or sustainably responsible. In an interview given to Inc.com, Christopher Gavigan, the co-founder of Honest Company, said, “We’re evolving as consumers and as a society, and we expect a deeper level of commitment from businesses to do more than just make money.”
A random search on the Internet for ‘green products’ results in thousands of products. Definitely, the world seems to have re-awakened to the issue of green-ness without realizing that they could be false and misleading claims. It is this rampant and sometimes misleading communication and claims that prompted the development of ‘The Greenwashing Index’ by US-based Enviro Media Social Marketing in association with the University of Oregon School of Journalism and communication. Through this initiative, Enviro Media intends to educate consumers on how to ‘read’ an advertisement and make an informed opinion on what they are seeing, believing and consuming.
Here in India, we have a self-regulatory organization for monitoring advertising content, ‘The Advertising Standards Council of India’ ASCI founded in 1985. The main objective of ASCI is to maintain the sanctity of advertising and enhance and augment public confidence in advertising and communications. However, with cut-throat competition, lack of transparency and a largely unregulated advertising industry, it remains a challenge to actually ascertain whether the claims made by companies on eco-friendliness and green initiatives are real or merely ‘greenwashing’.
So the responsibility of choosing the right product and services minus the false and perhaps misleading claims of eco-friendliness and sustainability lies with you, the consumer. An informed decision, however difficult it may be, remains the key to not only ‘thinking green’ but also actually combating the possible threat of greenwashing.