Greenwashing, or the practice of marketing false claims of corporate responsibility is a response to growing consumer trends of conscious buying, specifically tailored to exploit this burgeoning conscious. Grown out of the "whitewashing" term for covering misdeeds, consistency and financial sourcing both can indicate the degree of truthfulness in a "green" campaign.
"The Record" of Stockton, CA did an informal "review" of consumer products found in a neighborhood store and come up with these types of statistics:
- 1,018 consumer products analyzed
- Only one did not make false or misleading claims (TerraChoice)
- Most used hidden tradeoffs
- One environmental advance at the cost of others
- End result is a greener image on the shoulders of the minor advanc
- A review of garden products found that 10% of all claims were meaningless
As a result of this blatant disregard for brand transparancy and authenticity towards sustainability communications, the FTC has decided to impose new regulations in a crackdown on greenwashing (Washington Post 3/4/08). In new proposed regulations, the responsbility for the authenticity of the communciation will fall on the brand manager. With the last review and modifcation to guidelines in 1998, time is up for a change.
Brands play a dangerous game when they practice false advertising, consumers can end up hating or vilifying the brand and it can alienate the consumer from what is supposed to be a transparant process.
Brands need to practice brand-balancing and understand regultory, distribution, competitive, investor, and general public pressures that face the company. If they find that they are aligining hot topics with little substance, trying to have superhero image, walking a fine line between truth and lies, and generally ignorning consumer dialog, the brand will find that they will not perform up to expectations through their "green" marketing. We found that the brand story needs to be consistent and measured against consumer benefits, and teach consumers. Also enabling brands that allow consumers choices and options and invite them to be a part of the ongoing dialogue about their needs and wants in terms of sustainability and transparancy, will be more effetive green communications.