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Greenwashing and Eco-Fatigue: Bogus Green Claims do Everyone a Disservice

Oct 16, 2012

By: Kyrsten Cazas, Community & Visibility Specialist

Green·wash (grēn’wŏsh’, -wôsh’) – verb: the act of misleading consumers regarding the environmental practices of a company or the environmental benefits of a product or service.  – TerraChoice Environmental Marketing Inc., 2007.

Last year, Britain’s Channel 4 released a documentary that investigated claims by the California-based Fiji Water company that, as a way to reduce its carbon footprint, it would plant four square miles of trees in Fiji between 2007 and 2010.

But investigators found that, as of mid-2011, the company had only planted 1.4 square miles of trees with no evident plan to fulfill its promise.

By then we’d all heard of Fiji Water, which the company touts as being “drawn from an artesian aquifer that lies hundreds of feet below the edges of a primitive rainforest” in an “isolated and idyllic setting.” Its claims of environmental friendliness and pretty illustrated bottles have landed Fiji in the hands of some much-photographed celebs, on the tables of many ritzy restaurants and even on some prime-time hit TV shows.

But plain old common sense can tell anyone that Fiji Water’s claims are dubious, at best. Fiji Water is collected on an island way out in the Pacific Ocean. Which means that it is collected thousands of miles from pretty much anywhere; the closest large market for this water, Australia/New Zealand, is, at its closest point, about 1,300 miles away. Just imagine the volume of CO₂ emissions it must take to fly and truck this stuff to, say, Manhattan, London or Miami?

An overload of green marketing – as well as an epidemic of misleadingly-labeled or marketed products (clean coal, anyone?) – has left consumers feeling the effects of eco-fatigue for several years now.

After all, how much eco-hype can a weary mass of befuddled consumers take? It doesn’t help when Stanford University tells us that much-hyped pricey organic foods – which pulled in about $29.2 billion last year – aren’t any more nutritious than regular foods, although they do reduce exposure to pesticides.

But still, this eco-fatigue is reflected in changing consumer attitudes toward “green” products.

A recent Green Gauge survey by GfK shows that 93% of consumers say they’ve changed their household behavior to save energy, but are less willing this year to pay more for products labeled as “environmentally-friendly” than they were in 2008.

So consumers have spoken and it’s going to be much harder for deceptive marketers to greenwash products. The Federal Trade Commission recently released new rules that require marketers of “green” products to back up their claims with hard data – including proof that a salient benefit isn’t canceled out by toxic aspects of production or distribution.

And it’s about time, too.

Greenwashers who deceive consumers do everyone – including their own brands, when the deception is discovered – a huge disservice. They are particularly harmful to the genuine environmental movement which is trying to address real dangers, such as the climate change, pollution and deforestation that threaten our planet – and ultimately the survival of our species.

Who feels as strongly against greenwashing as I do?  I would love to hear from you, and especially if you’ve been the victim of greenwashing.

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