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Greenwashing is about the company, not just the product

July 16, 2012

By TRAY creative

When people use the term greenwashing, they’re usually referring to the practice of a company or brand making a dubious claim about the sustainability or eco-friendliness of its products. While that definition is certainly valid, we feel it’s too limiting.

Take, for example, a “green” cleaning product from a big consumer packaged goods corporation. Even if the label—which says the cleaner is made with safe, natural, non-toxic ingredients—is 100% accurate, your scrutiny as a consumer shouldn’t end there.

Market opportunity vs. leadership

It’s nice that a billion-dollar corporation, having seen data confirming that consumers are becoming more eco-conscious, has decided to introduce products that are safer and more sustainable. But you have to ask yourself whether “green” to this company is part of a larger corporate shift, or whether it merely represents an opportunistic market segment or strategy.

If its new “green” product line sells well enough, the company will of course expand its green product offerings. But that’s simply a matter of the market dictating the company’s commercial decisions. If the company were truly eco-conscious, it would lead the drive for social change by introducing greener practices across its entire brand line, and educating consumers about the importance of making these changes.

Do your homework

Go beyond the individual label to focus more on what actually makes real money for the corporation. That means looking at its full product lines—the ones that, unlike the niche “green” products, are generating the overwhelming majority of the company’s revenue—to see which changes, if any, are being instituted in terms of ingredients, packaging and manufacturing.

If you don’t see at least minimal efforts being made to reduce the environmental impact of every product in the company’s stable, then you have to wonder whether that authentically “green” product with the corporate name on the back is little more than a shiny distraction.