Can You Detect Greenwashing?

Can you detect when a supplier is Greenwashing their product or service? Are you sure? Did you take part in Earth Hour? You did? Guess what! You probably can’t detect greenwashing!

Earth Hour, another stupid marketing gimmick supposedly designed to get the message out about responsible energy usage, actually encourages the exact opposite by telling everyone to stop using power — at the same time — for one hour. Then, at the end of the hour, everyone — at the same time — turns their lights, tvs, and washing machines back on. This is the kind of action that can bring down a power grid, and, guess what, cost more energy then is saved in some cases. (Very little energy is actually saved, by the way. Less than an hour’s worth of lights or TV. You know why? When the hour is over, people are still going to do their laundry. They are still going to cook in their ovens. And they are still going to use whatever power hungry toys they have in their house.)

If you were a power engineer, you’d know that grids are designed to work where energy requirements are at rather constant levels. Basically, in laymen’s terms, whatever is put on to the grid has to be taken off, or the grid will blow. Similarly, if too much energy is taken off too fast, the grid can blow too. If power usage all of a sudden drops 50%, sometimes entire plants have to be rapidly taken off-line. (Which can be a problem if you have a nuclear plant in the mix. You just can’t shut one of those down on a whim!) This wouldn’t be a problem if it wasn’t for the fact that it takes a lot of time and energy to start up certain types of power plants. Water may turn turbines on its own when they are placed in a waterfall thanks to gravity, but sometimes a kick is needed to start a wind turbine. And coal burning plants don’t start up at the flick of a switch. It takes thousands of households turning off tvs and lights to equal the power required to start a small power plant. Imagine the power wasted shutting down and starting up a large power plant in one hour.

But I digress. As per the Sins of Greenwashing, maintained by TerraChoice, only 4.5% of products in 2010 were sin-free. Only 4.5%! The average claim is stretched so far from the truth that it’s only basis in reality is that the words used to describe it are part of the English language (most of the time). This is important to keep in mind with Earth Day coming up in two weeks and marketing folks getting ever more keen to tap into all the hoop-la that it entails. (Not that Earth Day is bad — just the marketers who try to sell non-green products and services as green.)

So how do you detect greenwashing? Familiarize yourself with the “10 Signs of Greenwash” developed by Futera and documented in this guide on Understanding and Preventing Greenwash co-developed with BSR. In brief, they are:

  1. Fluffy Language
  2. “Dirty Company”
  3. Suggestive Pictures
  4. Irrelevant Claims
  5. Best in Class
  6. Just Not Credible
  7. Jargon
  8. “Imaginary Friends”
  9. No Proof
  10. Out-Right Lying