Monday, June 3, 2013

Greenwashing: "Putting a Bird on It"

Have you ever watched Portlandia? I love that show! It is a laugh out loud satirical comedy that shamelessly mocks some of our “first world issues”. Yes… can understand why I like it.

My favourite episode of Portlandia (second only to the “Cacao” episode) is the episode where Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein (stars and creators of the program) mock the trend where folks put a bird on absolutely everything: purses, glassware, clothes……and suddenly, after a little artisanal embellishment, they are transformed into something worthy of the spend. Owl much?

It got me thinking……about greenwashing.

Greenwashing: defined as “…. the act of misleading consumers regarding the environmental practices of a company or the environmental benefits of a product or service.”

So… essence, when a company is guilty of greenwashing, they are simply “Putting a bird on it” and tricking consumers into believing that they are worthy of the spend.

Gosh! I love it when a good metaphor comes together. Put a bow on this one!

How can consumers protect themselves from getting tricked?

Beware of a sudden trend: when you begin seeing the same wording over and over on products (yes….that damn bird again), you should be wary. The manufacturer may be committing one of the “Seven Sins of Greenwashing” (Terrachoice):

  1. The sin of the hidden tradeoff
  2.  The sin of no proof
  3.  The sin of vagueness
  4. The sin of worshipping false labels
  5. The sin of irrelevance
  6. The sin of the lesser of two evils
  7.  The sin of fibbing

Terrachoice warns consumers to be wary of meaningless terminology that has no scientific basis, i.e. eco-safe.

Don’t feel badly if you have been a victim of greenwashing….. believe me, we ALL have from time to time. How can we be better at spotting the “bird” on our products?

 Look for the word “green” – if you see the word “green”, it bears further investigation. What do they mean it’s green? It might be guilty of at least 4 of the sins (Green-Eyed Event Planner……I actually do have green eyes, so I am…errrr [cough] guilty of perhaps one sin).

Look up your labels in advance – find out which environmental labels are legitimate.

Beware the environmental oxymoron: safe pesticides, paperless meeting (don’t get me started on the paperless meeting claims…paperless doesn’t mean paper-free…so perhaps that is more of an eco-conundrum wrapped in BPA free plastic wrap, dipped in fair-trade chocolate and surrounded by cage free chickens).

It is okay to be a little cynical about environmental claims. When manufacturers know that the public is watching them closely, and calling them out using social media, they will be less likely to commit a “sin”.

So……the next time you go shopping, beware the “birds” of greenwashing….and perhaps watch a few episodes of Portlandia.


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