20 July 2010

greenwashing, greenblushing

There are a host of enviro-biz terms being tossed around and specific to CSR and marketing there are two that come to mind - greenwashing and greenblushing. These are terms often used to describe companies that either over-talk their CSR credentials or under-talk them. Greenblushing is the most recent of the two was coined by Gregg LaBar. Greenwashing has been around since 1986 and was coined by Jay Westerveld.

From a PR perspective, both are bad news for the company. For consumers who are trying to make the right choice, it can be disheartening. So how can you be a smart shopper and tell the difference? Your first clues are to read the label and be discerning. Top words that should set off alarm-bells are "eco-friendly, all-natural, organic, biodegradable" etc. These words are being used on a variety of products that are simply not what they claim to be.

There is a limit to green, eco-friendly product design. Not every aspect of every product can be green. The first way to cut through the jargon is to ignore the packaging, regardless of whether is it made of 100% post-consumer recycled paper, hemp or bamboo. While you're at that, don't even look at the pretty pictures of rainforests and baby animals that may be on the product. This is a visual 'green-sell' to the uninformed.

Second, look at the product itself - how 'green' can garden pesticides be? or your supposedly "all-natural" shampoo? or cigarettes? or diapers?

Third, look at the company that makes the item. All of this should give you a clue. Whilst you're looking at the company, also look at the list of ingredients that go into the making of the product. Rule of the thumb: for processed food products - the list should not be over 5 items. For all other products - if you cannot pronounce the name of the ingredient, do not buy it because you most likely don't know what it is and what it does.

Finally, the best way to distinguish the good guys from the bad guys is to keep abreast of the news. Corporate policies are not the place that gives you information. Most companies embellish their websites with green marketing jargon. When it comes to CSR, what companies don't do is as important as what they do.

Take all this with a pinch of a salt. because there are companies that do mean it when they say that they are eco-friendly. The greenwashers make it harder for these companies to compete freely. I often find that the best organic, all-natural, most eco-friendly products are from small-scale companies, so focus there.

Farmer's markets and local trade fairs are an excellent place to start. There are several small business owners who sell products like soap, shampoo etc which are made in their own homes using organic ingredients - what can be more eco-friendly than that? Not shopping in super-markets is the single greenest thing you can do. If you must shop at a super-market, then be brand conscious and also price conscious. The cheaper you buy, the less 'green' it is. Aim for a happy medium in terms of price.

Shop with brands that have consistently met industry standards for being green - Johnson & Johnson, Burt's Bees, Gap, Dell, HP etc. The list is endless when you really delve into it. If you are here, reading this post then you must be on your way to becoming a smarter shopper because information is key.

More power to you!


Otrivin said...

Hi Akhila,that was a really interesting article.
We would like to inform you about an initiative for cleaner air that we will be starting from the 24/07/2010.
Kindly join us in this initiative at http://www.facebook.com/letsdecongestYou can also follow us at http://twitter.com/letsdecongest

Akhila Vijayaraghavan said...

Thanks Otrivin. I will have a look.