First, the TerraChoice Environmental Marketing definition of greenwashing: “The act of misleading consumers regarding the environmental practices of a company or the environmental benefits of a product or service.”
According to Wikipedia, NY environmentalist Jay Westerveld coined the word greenwash in an essay about the hotel industry’s practice of placing green placards in each room, promoting reuse of guest-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 monikered this and other outwardly environmentally conscientious acts with a greater, underlying purpose of profit increase as greenwashing.
So, is ‘green’ more about money than trees and frogs?
In August last year, the British Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) ruled that a Royal Dutch Shell (a popular Greenpeace target) had published an advertisement that claimed, apparently in a roundabout way, that its Alberta oil sands project was a ‘sustainable’ energy source. ASA ruled that Shell had misled the public. ASA stated that claims should always avoid the vague use of terms such as ‘sustainable’, ‘green’ or ‘non-polluting’. No argument from me!
Take a look at this Shell ad ‘Chemistry plus Creative Thinking = Cleaner City Air’ which Greenpeace recently labeled as greenwash. On analysis, this ad passes the test. It backs up its claim with the percentage reduction in soot that is achievable using the gas-to-liquid (GTL) formula. Sorry Greenpeace. Wait a minute…how vague is the use of ‘green’ in Greenpeace?