Greenwashing – Capitalizing Off of Green Living Trends?

The Ottawa Sun has an interesting tidbit on “Greenwashing”, or “the false or misleading practice of advertising green but operating dirt.” It isn’t surprising that this has become an issue – companies making claims of sustainable, environmental, or “green” practices when, in fact, they may be doing no such thing.

It’s an area in which we are expecting complaints to increase,” says Janet Feasby, vice-president of Advertising Standards Canada. “The more green claims we see, the more complaints we get.”

Feasby said while complaints are still small in number, she’s bracing for a surge.

“It’s an important issue because when they see green ads, Canadians get the impression corporations are really getting on side, but it ain’t so,” said Stephen Hazell, executive director of the Sierra Club of Canada. “Yes, there are some efforts being made by some industries, but generally speaking there is a lack of government leadership.”

But how, you may ask, could a company possibly get away with this? Surely, there are strict governmental regulations put into place, plainly setting out guidelines for what is can and cannot be called “green”? There are not, and although there are voluntary standards for drafted for a few industries (i.e. follow our set of guidelines, use our green logo), it doesn’t mean a company can slap on the “green” moniker without providing evidence for being so.

In the absence of laws, environmental groups have stepped into the mix, conducting their own investigations to expose companies that use environmentally unfriendly practices.

A U.S.-based non-governmental organization called the Environmental Investigations Agency (EIA) regularly investigates the source of wood sold by American retail chains.

“There are a lot of temptations and opportunities for an international company to save money by cutting environmental corners,” says Alexander von Bismarck, executive director of the EIA.

I wonder if this might be fueled by the ambiguous nature of “green” – it has relatively little meaning, except to say “Hey, we’re thinking about the environment in some way, we promise…”, and is reminiscent of “Fat free” or “Low Fat” and other ilk.

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Dave Semeniuk spends hours locked up in his office, thinking about the role the oceans play in controlling global climate, and unique ways of studying it. He'd also like to shamelessly plug his art practice: