Education is the only thing that will save us from greenwashing. If we do not know what to look for and how to look beyond a corporations claim of being “Environmentally Friendly,” how will we learn to really help our planet? Some people may question, why does it matter? Think about it: If you are prompted to shop at a huge supermarket because of its “green” advertising, you will be buying a lot more than just those light bulbs you went in for. Every dollar that you spend in that store will be making a few people much richer at the expense of making many others disgracefully poor. That’s not green, and neither is it ethically correct.
As our society is becoming progressively greener by the day, largely due to mass media and advertising of major corporations, we are all seeking ways to become a little greener. However, we must keep a keen eye on what really is green and what may be greenwashed to mislead the average consumer.
What is greenwashing? It is the act of playing up the earth friendliness of a product or corporation, even if it's not truly earth friendly. We are seeing this pop up everywhere, from Wal-mart adds about changing a light bulb to McDonald’s ads which are full of a kaleidoscope of fresh fruits and veggies to the side-bar ad on the Clorox site proclaiming “Essentials for a Healthier Home” and “Miracle in a Bottle.” Seriously? Anyone care to discuss Clorox’s policy on animal testing or the environmental impacts of chlorine bleach? And what about the little fact that chlorine bleach can create chloramine gas and chlorine gas when used in everyday household applications -- both of which are poisonous?
This kind of advertising is misleading. The focus is on what the corporation is doing to appear more environmentally conscious or on a specific product that is better for our planet. It simply masks all the other happenings that are less than earth friendly.
How do you know what is really earth friendly and what has been greenwashed? Watch for wording in advertising and on labels. Simply labeling the bottle as Earth Friendly isn’t enough. Look for words like "non-toxic," "biodegradable," and "no animal testing." (Not “This Finished Product Not Tested On Animals," as Bath and Body Works proclaims -- what does that tell us anyway?) Remember to purchase products in packaging that can be recycled in your area. Check www.GreenSeal.org for a list of green-seal certified products and do your research.
We need to focus on less overall consumerism versus MORE earth-friendly consumerism. The act of consuming is not earth friendly. The mass marketing out there wants us to buy more, use more, and do more. In reality, more isn’t better. Yes, everyone should switch their light bulbs to compact fluorescents and save up to two-thirds of their lighting-related energy consumption ... but does that mean purchasing those light bulbs from Wal-mart is the best choice?
Part of being green includes awareness and education. If I spend my money at XYZ store, what impact does that have on our society and our planet? This is when we start looking for local stores to purchase our items from. This is when we start becoming aware of fair trade and how things like sugar, coffee, and chocolate reach our kitchens. This is when we finally get what being green means.