If you want to find out more about Green Washing – the practice by some manufacturers that provides misleading or false information about the environmental friendliness of their products, visit the Sins of Greenwashing site and play their game. It’s a great way to test your knowledge about products and the claims they make about their “green-ness.”
Of course, if you want to score your best, read the report here first. You’ll never look at your grocery store shelves the same way again. What exactly do “natural” and “non-toxic” mean when it comes to making green decisions in the products you buy? Are there hidden trade-offs – does one environmental benefit have an offsetting negative impact somewhere in the product’s lifecycle? Do the products you buy provide proof of the claims they make? Is the language used vague or unexplained? Have they slapped a logo on the label that implies certification by a third party? If so, who is that third party – does one exist, or is it a fancy design the product’s marketing department created to dress up their label? Do the claims they make actually differentiate them in the marketplace or could all competing products make the same claim? Lastly, does the label out and out lie about its environmental impact?
The report outlines its findings, broken up by country – U.S., Canada, U.K. and Australia; product type – toys, cleaning products, health and beauty, baby care, electronics, building and construction, office products, lawn and garden, etc.; and types of “sins” committed by each product.
We were surprised and informed by the results (but had fun playing the game nonetheless). A full 98% of the products surveyed committed at least one of the “sins”! As marketers ourselves, we understand the desire to be concise in the wording on product labels and marketing materials. There is value in brevity when communicating with consumers. But striving for the most enticing wording should never be at the expense of the truth.
In most advertising, there’s a certain place for hyperbole and opinion. You always want to say the product you’re advertising is the best on the market, but that is often a subjective claim. The environmental impact of your product is definitely not subjective though. There are very real outcomes based on the claims you may make on a product label. The takeaway from this is that in the case of environmental claims, more is better. More information on the label will help inform consumers about the footprint of the products you’re marketing.
Another side of the Green Washing phenomenon, and which makes the practice all the more ridiculous, is that in some cases, manufacturers spend more money to market their product as a “green” product than it would have taken to make the product legitimately green in the first place. To those companies, we say: devote the resources to the right area in the first place and actually help make the world a better place. The sales will follow.
To that end, as consumers, we should all be more vigilant and knowledgeable about the products we buy. Getting this report in as many hands as possible will help create awareness and action. The key is not to give up on manufacturers. Keep looking for transparency and information. As we noted in a previous blog, the more that consumers know, and act on that knowledge, the more motivation manufacturers will have to create legitimately green products and technologies.
The last piece of the puzzle is those who market the products – our brothers in arms in the industry – take the time to get the facts straight in order to give consumers all the information they need. Do not stumble on false or misleading claims. It is better to market a product truthfully than to get caught shading the truth or overstating your case. Market the products for what they are, and hopefully what they are is truly green.
Eric J. Hirschhorn is a principal at bloomfield knoble. For 17 years he has helped lead the Dallas-based advertising agency from start up to becoming a premier, full-service agency whose clients include some of the most influential companies in America. Eric lives to spend time with his family, to work and to travel the world in search of unique fishing adventures.