Monday, September 21, 2009

The Green in GREENwash

Have you heard about the 8th Deadly Sin?

It's called greenwashing, and Satan is busy at work, building a new ring of hell just for those who perpetrate this act. In that ring of hell, your punishment will be to be chained to a tree for all eternity, to be forced to listen to folk music and drink matcha.

At least, that's how it seems when you read some of the eco-blogs out there. Read a few of these commentators, and you'll start realizing that greenwashing is everywhere.

So, what is this sin? What does greenwashing mean?

Greenwashing is the practice of spending money to market products or services as green, when the products either a) aren't that green; or b) spend more money on marketing than they do on greening their industries.

Greenwashing is not nice. On the other hand, IS IT SURPRISING? Basically, the constant cry of "Greenwasher! You advertisers are greenwashers!" is kind of like saying, "Advertisers! You are advertisers!"

Advertisers' jobs are to leverage the zeitgeist to get folks to buy crap. When I was a kid, there was a cereal called Sugar Pops. Today, you can't find Sugar Pops, because no one wants to admit they are feeding their kids a bowl full of sugar. Now we call it Corn Pops. (And it's super-yummy by the way). When a critical mass of people realized, hey, sugar is not a good breakfast for my 7-year-old, the advertisers realized that a "re-branding" would be necessary. Hence, the name change.

That's why I, as a glass-half-full kinda gal, see the green in GREENwash. We have reached the point where it PAYS to market green. Industry is paying money to find out how to leverage our zeit and our geist. And the spirit of our time is getting a little greener every day.

Do we know how to best circumvent that greenwashing and make the smartest consumer decisions? No. We haven't yet figured out yet how to see the truth of greenwashers' claims without doing tons of research. And honestly, I don't think we have clearly defined what it means to be "green."

Personally, though, I think it will be time to be afraid when greenwashing disappears, and advertisers don't care what environmentalists think, when trying to get a mom in Duluth to buy a "green" detergent doesn't pay and they go back to only talking about its Mighty Stain-Fighting Power. And still, let's try to do better and demand more of ourselves and industry.

Coming up: What's our consumer responsibility in a world of greenwashing? I weigh in, because, obviously, I am the best person to ask about that. Also, Andy gets his shout-out, and I wax rhapsodic about vinegar, once again.

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