From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Green_washing
Greenwashing (a portmanteau of “green” and “whitewash”) is a term describing the deceptive use of green PR or green marketing in order to promote a misleading perception that a company’s policies or products (such as goods or services) are environmentally friendly. The term green sheen has similarly been used to describe organizations that attempt to show that they are adopting practices beneficial to the environment.
Greenwashing may be described as “spin.” One example is presenting cost cuts as reductions in use of resources.
The term greenwashing was coined by New York environmentalist Jay Westerveld in a 1986 essay regarding the hotel industry’s practice of placing placards in each room promoting reuse of towels ostensibly to “save the environment”. Westerveld noted that, in most cases, little or no effort toward waste recycling was being implemented by these institutions, due in part to the lack of cost-cutting affected by such practice. Westerveld opined that the actual objective of this “green campaign” on the part of many hoteliers was, in fact, increased profit. Westerveld hence monitored this and other outwardly environmentally conscientious acts with a greater, underlying purpose of profit increase as greenwashing. The use of logos such as ‘Rainforest Alliance’ is also a form of greenwashing, where customers think that the item they’re buying is completely ethical, when in fact only a small proportion of the item’s ingredients are. An example of this is Galaxy Chocolate (UK), where the cocoa is ethically sourced but another ingredient, palm oil, is unsustainably sourced leading to a decline in the orangutan population.
The term is generally used when significantly more money or time has been spent advertising being green (that is, operating with consideration for the environment), rather than spending resources on environmentally sound practices. This is often portrayed by changing the name or label of a product to evoke the natural environment or nature—for example, putting an image of a forest on a bottle containing harmful chemicals. Environmentalists often use greenwashing to describe the actions of energy companies, which are traditionally the largest polluters.
Norway’s consumer ombudsman has targeted automakers who claim that their cars are “green”, “clean” or “environmentally friendly” with some of the world’s strictest advertising guidelines. Consumer Ombudsman official Bente Øverli said: “Cars cannot do anything good for the environment except less damage than others.” Manufacturers risk fines if they fail to drop the words. Øverli said she did not know of other countries going so far in cracking down on cars and the environment.
In addition, the political term “linguistic detoxification” describes when, through legislation or other government action, the definitions of toxicity for certain substances are changed, or the name of the substance is changed, so that fewer things fall under a particular classification as toxic. An example is the reclassification of some low-level radioactive waste as “beyond regulatory concern”, which permits it to be buried in conventional landfills. Another example is the EPA renaming sewage sludge to biosolids, and allowing it to be used as fertilizer, despite the fact that it often contains many hazardous materials including PCBs, dioxin, arsenic, cadmium, lead, and asbestos. The origin of this phrase has been attributed to environmental activist and author Barry Commoner.
Several activities designed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions may be considered merely symbolic greenwash. For example, Earth Hour encourages consumers to switch off electric appliances for 1 hour. This may make people feel good about a minor inconvenience without creating any sustained reduction in greenhouse gas emissions.
Similarly, introduction of a Carbon Emission Trading Scheme may feel good, but may be counterproductive if the cost of carbon is priced too low, or if large emitters are given ‘free credits’. For example, Bank of America subsidiary MBNA offers an Eco-Logique MasterCard for Canadian consumers that rewards customers with carbon offsets as they continue using the card. Customers may feel that they are nullifying their carbon footprint by purchasing polluting goods with the card. However, only 0.5 percent of purchase price goes into purchasing carbon offsets, while the rest of the interchange fee still goes to the bank.