Greenwashing – why do we feel so cheated?

We all know that anti-wrinkle creams don’t work, that owning a certain car won’t make you sexier or that diet pills will make you thiner, so why do we feel so personally aggrieved when we buy a fraudulently green product?

Greenwashing has become endemic over the past 20 years which in a way is a good sign. It shows that the green movement is raising the environmental and social consciousness of western societies.

This increasing concern of being hoodwinked can be seen in the greenwash tide that’s rising in the ACCC complaints department.

Graeme Samuel, chairman of ACCC  has stated that fraudulent and misleading complaints about  green ads has risen from almost none two years ago to about 500 since early 2008 which was ”very unusual”. He says such complaints were becoming as common as those about telco companies.

Graeme believes “Five hundred suggests there’s more than a moderate problem here, that this is an increasing problem. It’s a new area and in some cases marketers don’t understand, but in most cases marketers do understand and they are over-selling.”
But when has truth in advertising mattered? Advertising pushes the boundaries of truth, seeks to create an emotional attachment for you to buy a product.

Greenwashing makes consumers sceptical – this lack of trust will erode and devalue this intangible asset of reputation.

Some companies that have been pulled up by the ACCC for letting their rhetoric get ahead of reality include Woolworths, SAAB, Origin Energy, and carbon broker Prime Carbon.
But looking beyond a personal sense of being duped, Greenwashing poses one of the greatest threats of genuine environmental and social development. I think Danny Kennedy, Campaigns Manager at Greenpeace sums up this threat perfectly:

“Greenwashing fools consumers into supporting the economy’s status quo; lures  investors who link positive environmental performance with profitable financial performance; and misleads policymakers charged with designing and enforcing environmental regulations.”

This creates the perception that change is occurring even though we are still walking down the exact same path and nothing has in reality, changed.

save planet poster

Another problem is us, the consumers and the Green Halo Effect – the moral superiority and the psychological trade off people create in their minds. A holier than holy green ablution because you can afford to pay $2 more for your toilet paper with a tree on the packet; I drive a Prius therefore I can continue to fly business class; I turn my lights off for an hour once a year therefore I can have a TV screen the size of a small elephant in my lounge room.  This is human nature; it’s the green equivalent of starting your diet or quitting smoking next week. We are all guilty of it.
Markets respond to demand. We are creating a demand for a quick fix, an easy solution. An off-set for our conscious.