Friday, 4 September 2009

Are You Into Ecopornography?

You have probably noticed that today practically every firm out there is claiming to be, in one way or another, environmentally friendly. Words and expressions like green, biodegradable, recyclable, non-polluting, etc... have become extremely common everywhere. I am sure that if you walk around your home right now you will be able to find at least one product promoting its greenish attitude. This phenomenon is so diffused that even oil companies, which are probably among the greatest polluters in the world, are claiming to be the environment best friends. Someone would say that this thing smells fishy, isn't it? Especially when, on one hand, you see ads from oil companies on Tv promoting their efforts in protecting the planet, but, alas, on the other hand they are selling products helping to ruin it. Moreover you are also told that it was discovered that some of them are constantly lobbying with governments to relax environmental laws and regulations.

That's probably what Mr. J. Westerweld must have thought when he coined the term greenwashing. He was probably struck by this ambivalent nature of some firms and industries' behaviours. He once noticed that some hotels were placing green placards in rooms promoting various types of good behaviour like the reuse of towels, etc... Though, he later noticed that these hotels were making no effort in recycling waste. The main reason for that was that it was not worth economically.

Even if you have probably already got the point, the term greenwashing defines the practice of deceivingly promoting one's products or services as being environmentally friendly. The main purpose of these actions is obviously to gain the public approval. Classical examples are the use of less natural resources, the development of new products with lower environmental impact, energy-efficient goods, etc... To define more or less the same thing also the term that I used in the title of this post (ecopornography) was created by J. Mander.

The informed consumer has to be aware of such things. The risk is otherwise to inevitably fall into the trap without even noticing it. There are of course firms actually promoting good behaviours and acting accordingly, but how to distinguish the good apples from the bad ones? It is probably very difficult. Anyway, information asymmetries can be levelled to some extent. Internet and a critical attitude are already good wapons to defend oneself from being greenwashed.

For example, Terra choice, an environmental marketing agency, has published an interesting study called The six sins of greenwashing. In their study they found out that more of 99% of the analysed firms were guilty of greenwashing in some way. Here are the six sins:
  1. Sin of the Hidden Trade-Off: e.g. “Energy-efficient” electronics that contain hazardous materials.
  2. Sin of No Proof: e.g. Shampoos claiming to be “certified organic,” but with no verifiable certification.
  3. Sin of Vagueness: e.g. Products claiming to be 100% natural when many naturally-occurring substances are hazardous, like arsenic and formaldehyde.
  4. Sin of Irrelevance: e.g. Products claiming to be CFC-free, even though CFCs were banned 20 years ago.
  5. Sin of Fibbing: e.g. Products falsely claiming to be certified by an internationally recognized environmental standard like EcoLogo, Energy Star or Green Seal.
  6. Sin of Lesser of Two Evils: e.g. Organic cigarettes or “environmentally friendly” pesticides.
If you want to read the complete study and find other interesting advices on how to defend yourself from being deceived please go to the following link: