What is greenwashing?
Simply, it is a form of PR that companies use in order to appear environmentally responsible, when really they aren’t.
The term was coined by Jay Westervelt in 1986 upon seeing signs in hotels encouraging the reuse of towels. They claimed this would save energy from reduced washes, whereas in reality the aim was simply the increased profits associated with reduced towel use. It is a misplaced attempt at corporate social responsibility. The point is best explained with some examples which I present below.
1. Yum! Brands, which own KFC, Taco Bell and Pizza Hut say they want to reduce their energy consumption 10% relative to 2005, but this only applies to its company-owned stores. The number of these stores has actually decreased since 2005, with non company-owned stores increasing roughly 470% since 2005. So they are not exactly living up to expectations. 1
2. The rebranding of British Petroleum to Beyond Petroleum in 2000 was somewhat misleading, especially as oil is still one of the dirtiest industries. So need I even mention the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in 2010 and its environmental impact to prove that they haven’t exactly gone green. 2 3
3. The UK actually banned this Malaysian Palm Oil Council advert as it was so misleading: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3zZIoqeuJf4&noredirect=1. The video says that the palm oil brings life, when in fact the palm trees are causing a huge amount of destruction around the world. 4
Try to be aware of the parent companies of brands. For example, Green and Blacks, a usually trusted brand, is actually owned by Kraft. Seeds of Change is owned by Mars.
In conclusion, don’t be fooled by companies. Think about the claims they are making, whether they are true or really do anything to help the environment. No doubt as we demand companies to be more responsible, the frequency of greenwashing will increase. However, remember after all, actions speak louder than words.
I find this image sums it up nicely: