Greenwashing: What Can Corporate Green do for You?

Green this! Green that! Eco-safe shoes and eco-safe hats! Okay, this sounds ridiculous, right? The environmental movement, with all its deep complexities and moral ground, trivialized to the state a Dr. Seuss-esque jingle. Unfortunately, this is exactly what is going on. Massive industry, both in regards to the agricultural sector and abroad, is eager to pounce on the burgeoning “green” movement. They do it, however, not to promote environmental consciousness, but rather to sell it.

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While the line separating the two – promoting and selling, that is – is without a doubt blurred, there nevertheless is a distinction to be made. If one is to promote environmentalism and/or the movements associated with environmentalism, we can assume they do so because they believe in and support the values behind the ideas. Alternatively, if one simply sells environmentalism, they do so because of a profit; they do not have to subscribe to the beliefs or values of the product.

That is, of course, a simplification. It exists in many forms, from both targeted marketing to deceptive labels, and it can differ in degree.

However, there remains the problem of ‘greenwashing’ – best defined as employing deceptive use of ‘green’ marketing in order to promote an image that the company behind the product really cares about the environment. In reality, however, it doesn’t. It loves green – no doubt – just a different kind.

Caught in the Act of Greenwashing:

The All New, 2011 Ford Mustang

31 mpg. Primal. Amped. Untamed. Transformed. The first ever 31 mpg, 305 HP V6. A whole new breed.

Yes, that is the language from the new 2011 Ford Mustang commercial. In it, “31 mpg” was flashed over and over, for a total of six times. Clearly, Ford is trying to make an appeal to the more eco-conscious sports car driver.
In fact, Ford has taken the time to announce “concrete greenhouse gas reduction targets”.  Ford further appealed to its shareholders as well as their customers that the new F-150 will be 20 percent more fuel efficient than the outgoing 2010s. In other words, Ford is doing their best to look “greener”. They even hired Discovery Channel “Dirty Jobs” Mike Rowe to sell the image.

Unfortunately, though, this is more to sell cars than to support the environment. In response to Ford’s announcements, Friends of Earth –  the US voice of the world’s largest grassroots environmental network – notes concern on both actual action and motivation.

“Ford has taken a step forward by acknowledging the need to reduce global warming pollution from its cars and trucks. But what really matters is whether Ford's targets achieve strong reductions in greenhouse gas emissions—and we don't believe they do,” according to Danielle Fugere of Friends of the Earth. He went on to note that “Ford's targets don't appear to promise reductions greater than what Ford is already required to do under recently adopted national fuel economy standards.”

So what is Ford doing? They are aggressively promoting an image while operating at the bare minimum to legally sustain that image. They are greenwashing, and its rampant in the auto industry. Want more evidence? Try to remember the time when the top three CEOs – Alan Mulally of Ford, Rick Wagoner of GM and Robert Nardelli of Chrysler – were attacked for flying to D.C. in “climate-killing” private jets. In response, they  drove their companies’ respective hybrids  to Washington the next time. The irony is they were only in Washington is ask for money so they wouldn’t go under – no one wants their gas guzzling, 3-ton SUVs.

If that isn’t selling rather than promoting, I don’t know what is.

It’s everywhere…but does it hurt?

Unfortunately, it seems there is no real escape from green washing. Hotels that use way passed their means promote “disposable hand towels” and “laundry per resident request”. Fox News redesigned a portion of their website to include “green references”. And somehow, Forbes magazine worked up the justification for calling Exxon-Mobil the “Green Company of the Year” in 2009.

These are just a few examples.

However, to beg the question, is it wrong or bad for companies to “greenwash”? So the Ford Mustang is just a sports car with the added appeal of efficiency, but at least it’s efficient. And even if the companies is only committing to the minimum, at least they’re committing. Right?

Yes, the act of selling is commendable in the sense that it too – regardless  of motivation – still promotes the idea and helps to accomplish the same mission. However, therPin Ite is one major problem. If people begin to desire a different “style” or “trend”, the companies will follow that, and environmentalism will be dropped.

In that, lies the core problem:  corporations treat environmentalism as a trend, not as a serious movement that seeks to accomplish serious goals. Whether it is “good” or “bad” if they promote green ideas is up for you decide, as both an individual and consumer.

Recently, I’ve begun to consider the power of consumerism to be equal to the power of democracy when it comes to rallying behind an idea or, in this case, a product. Whether that is “good” or “bad” is also for you to decide. The most important thing is to be aware that it is going on.

Remember: business, however good it may be for society, relies on the motivation of profit, which is fueled by the seeds of deception.

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