With so many brands trumpeting empty green promises, a collective consumer cynicism has developed to keep companies in check. Websites like www.greenwashindex.com host forums for users to rate various green-toting ads on their level of BS. This site is one of many available for consumers to engage in a dialogue about the latest offenders. Some activists have taken a facetious approach to identifying key players. A company called ‘Corpwatch’ whose mandate is to hold corporations accountable for their operations has created the Greenwashing Academy Awards. These acknowledgments are awarded bimonthly to corporations that put more money, time and energy into slick PR campaigns promoting their eco-friendly image, than they do to actually protecting the environment.
With consumers and environmentalists ready to pounce at the first sight of contradictory claims, many brands are becoming apprehensive to even utter the words ‘environmentally friendly’. And as an agency that prides itself on injecting brands with integrity and intelligence, we would never want to position a company in the line of fire. So how do we know if a client’s request for a green image will help or hinder? Perhaps the 6 Sins of Greenwashing checklist could shed some light on the validity of their claims:
1. What type of claim is being made? Is it specific or broad? Does the value of the single claim outweigh the other aspects of their operation?
2. Is a copy of the environmental standard or testing protocol available? If a manufacturer can’t provide the evidence of their claim, it could be a warning sign.
3. Was the testing protocol developed through a comprehensible, transparent process? If their story checks out, then testing should be able to live up to certain public standards without confusion.
4. Who developed the testing protocol? The most trusted standards are those developed in a consensus-based process by broad stakeholder groups.
5. What process is used to verify that the products meet the standard? There are various procedures to verify, including:
- Self certification;
- Self certification with random audits;
- Independent third party verification;
- Independent third party certification with on-site audits
Here are some more efforts worthy of a Greenwash Oscar:
PG&E - Let's Green This City
Walmart - Save and Live Green
BP - Environment and Society