There’s more and more talk every day about “going green.” Some of the broader principles of sustainability are being adopted by many companies, organizations and institutions throughout the country. However, now that sustainability has entered mainstream culture, one has to be careful not to be taken in by false claims of being “green.”
The term for this phenomenon is greenwashing. The American Heritage Dictionary defines it as “the dissemination of misleading information by an organization to conceal its abuse of the environment in order to present a positive public image.”
To make this concept more concrete, here’s a general example: A company manufactures Product A, with the claim that it uses 50% less energy than Product B. The company fails to mention that the manufacture of Product A requires a large amount of toxic and dangerous chemicals that Product B does not require.
That particular example is of a tradeoff. Some manufacturers will make claims that their product is more environmentally friendly than a competitor, but they do not mention that their product also has negative environmental effects.
However, greenwashing is often even less subtle than that. When you go shopping, some instances of greenwashing can be obvious, if you know what to look for. More and more, you see products with recycling logos or other sustainability related images or slogans aimed at environmentally-minded consumers. Often, though, the product is no more sustainable than any other. One way to check is to see if it has a label saying it’s made out of recycled materials, or uses organic dyes. If there’s no indication that that product is any different from any other, it’s a prime example of greenwashing.
Organic products are also occasionally the victims of greenwashing. If something claims to be organic, make sure that it has a round Certified Organic logo, or a statement describing its organic content and who certified it. If it doesn’t have either, it probably isn’t actually organic. All-natural products can also be deceptive, as there are many natural substances which are still harmful.
Depsite this trend, not all companies, organizations, and institutions are out to deceive you. There are many that truly are working to minimize their impact on the environment and help you do the same. Here at the University we strive to communicate the facts with our community by sharing the things we do that are beneficial to the environment. As is usually the case, being an educated consumer is the best method to avoid being taken advantage of. If a company claims to be “green,” look below the surface and read the fine print. That will tell you if they’re as green as they claim to be or if they’re just another example of greenwashing.