Green, Environmental, Climate, Emissions. Going Green? Or Are You Being “Green Washed“?

We’re seeing these terms more and more.  Green, environmental, climate, emissions, global warming, greenhouse gases and the list goes on.  Are we being green washed?


The term is generally used when significantly more money or time has been spent advertising being green (that is, operating with consideration for the environment), rather than spending resources on environmentally sound practices. This is often portrayed by changing the name or label of a product to evoke the natural environment or nature—for example, putting an image of a forest on a bottle containing harmful chemicals. Environmentalists often use green washing to describe the actions of energy companies, which are traditionally the largest polluters.


The U.S. based watch dog group, CorpWatch defines green wash as “the phenomena of socially and environmentally destructive corporations, attempting to preserve and expand their markets or power by posing as friends of the environment.” This definition was shaped by the group’s focus on corporate behavior and the rise of corporate green advertising at the time.  However, governments, political candidates, trade associations and non-government organizations have also been accused of green washing.  The term green washing was coined by New York environmentalist Jay Westerveld in a 1986 essay regarding the hotel industry’s practice of placing placards in each room promoting reuse of towels ostensibly to “save the environment”. Westerveld noted that, in most cases, little or no effort toward waste recycling was being implemented by these institutions, due in part to the lack of cost-cutting affected by such practice. Westerveld opined that the actual objective of this “green campaign” on the part of many hoteliers was, in fact, increased profit. Westerveld hence monitored this and other outwardly environmentally conscientious acts with a greater, underlying purpose of profit increase as green washing.



The allure of green washing

Organizations are attracted to engage in green washing for a wide range of reasons including:

  • attempting to divert the attention of regulators and deflating pressure for regulatory change;
  • seeking to persuade critics, such as non-government organizations, that they are both well-intentioned and have changed their ways;
  • seeking to expand market share at the expense of those rivals not involved in green washing; this is especially attractive if little or no additional expenditure is required to change performance; alternatively, a company can engage in green washing in an attempt to narrow the perceived ‘green’ advantage of a rival;
  • reducing staff turnover and making it easier to attract staff in the first place;
  • Making the company seem attractive for potential investors, especially those interested in ethical investment or socially responsive investment.





Rough rules of thumb for detecting green wash

Big budget green wash campaigns are designed to defuse skepticism of journalists, politicians and activists.  Some rough rules of thumb for testing whether the claims made by a company stack up are:


  • Follow the Money Trail: many companies are donors to political parties, think tanks and other groups in the community. Few companies actually disclose in their annual reports exactly whom they are donating to, even though it is shareholders money. Ask about all their donations, not just those they boast about in glossy documents such as the corporate social responsibility reports.
  • Follow the membership trail: Many companies boast about the virtues of their environmental policy and performance but hide their anti-environmental activism behind the banner of an industry association to which they belong. Find out what industry association companies are members of and check and see what their policies are. Assume that all individual companies support the trade association’s policy positions until such time as they publicly state that they don’t agree with them or they resign.
  • Follow the paper trail: Most companies, or their trade associations, will make submissions to government and other inquiries on a wide range of issues. Often these submissions will be posted to a website. They will also send lots of letters to politicians and government agencies, which can be accessed by Freedom of Information Act searches. Ask about submissions made by the company and their lobbying on issues you are interested in. You will probably discover that instead of lobbying for tougher environmental standards, they are busy trying to weaken the ones that exist.
  • Look for skeletons in the company’s closet: Every company has major problems that it doesn’t want the public and regulators to know about. Some companies include information in the annual reports about problems that have been in the news in the last year. More often, there will have been problems, occasionally reported in the media, which they don’t want to tell shareholders about. Check for information on the company with watchdog groups and in the media and compare that with what they disclose.
  • Test for access to information: Many companies will make lofty claims about their commitment to transparency and providing information to ‘stakeholders’. Don’t just take them at their word. In their reports they will probably refer to environmental impact statements, reviews, audits, monitoring data and other information. If it relates to an issue you are interested in, ask to see it. And remember that ‘commercially confidential’ is just corporate speak for ‘no’.
  • Test for international consistency: Most companies will operate to different standards in other countries. Check and see whether their operating standards and procedures are consistent or whether they opt for lower standards where they think they can get away with it.
  • Check how they handle their critics: Some companies go to extraordinary lengths to try and silence their critics. This can involve everything from legal threats to funding and collaborating with police and military forces.
  • Test for consistency over time: It is common for a company to launch a policy or initiative and then starve it of funds. Or a company will make promises when they are under public pressure but never implement them when the spotlight fades.


The challenges of climate change are too important for us to be distracted.  We need to put an end to the green washing and get busy with real environmental change.


Not willing to leave you hanging with a bunch of info or just (the problem) with no solution, we have found one company that virtually blows everyone out of the water in terms of what they started over 51 years ago and continue to do today.


“We were doing it back when green was just a color and biodegradable was barely a word.  In fact, as early as 1960, we made one of the first biodegradable household cleaners ever.  And we were the first company in the world to obtain Climate Neutral™ certification and totally offset our CO2 emissions, resulting in a net zero impact on the environment.”  What I think makes this ever cooler is that they didn’t get a inspector in, tell them what needed to be changed to be totally climate neutral and then change to get the designation.  The inspector came back and said, “I’ve never seen this before, your company runs with a climate neutral net zero impact”.


We do what we do because we think it’s essential to do our small part as part of the movement to make people and the planet healthier.  In doing so, we believe each of our contributions put together will create the major change we wish to see in the world.


Who is this company?  The 2 links below will show and tell you, plus allow you to look for yourself


See what their products look like

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