Too often we fall prey to unsavoury marketing practices. Labels on food items inform that a product is “packed with energy”. Car manufacturers tell us that fuel consumption of a vehicle is the “best in its class”. The poorly acted infomercials on daytime television sell us fitness equipment that will help us lose weight in only “five minutes per day”. The problem with this type of marketing is not so much about what we are told, but rather, what is left out. “Packed with energy” usually means that a product is high in sugar content. A car that has class-leading fuel consumption may use less than similar vehicle but if that car is an SUV it by no means is cheap to run. And in most infomercials, the “five minutes per day” exercise only works when used in conjunction with a healthy eating plan. In other words, the device on its own is useless.
As awareness of green issues grows, so to does the possibility of greenwashing – being lead to believe that a product, service, idea or law is eco-friendly when it is not. For example, your credit card company may make donations to green causes for every purchase you make. How does promoting consumerism benefit the environment? The basic tenet of green living is to consume less.
In many instances more money has been spent on branding an item as eco-friendly than actually making it sustainable. Marketers use green in their branding, ensure that images of trees are used in logos and include terms such as “natural” in campaigns, often never actually making changes to their product or packaging.
Cost cutting measures are often sold to the public as being “good for the environment”. Refusing to print installation manuals for certain products is an example of this – while less paper is used it in no way alters how the actual product is manufactured nor changes its eco status. Producing a washing machine that has no printed manual in no way makes the actual machine more energy efficient.
Greenwashing is a growing concern because it fools people who want to make a difference into believing they actually are. Below are a few steps to take if you wish to avoid falling into the trap:
• Read labels: terms such as “natural” are meaningless on their own. If something is organic, sustainable or energy efficient there should be some kind of third party verification (though there are not many examples of this in South Africa) or explanation as to why those terms are used.
•_ Irrelevant facts:_ many items are listed as CFC-free. This may be true, but CFC’s have been illegal for some time. A product needs to have other green credentials.
• Core business: if a manufacturer produces a product that is largely detrimental to the environment, chances are any new “eco-friendly” product they offer is far from that. Clean petrol is an example.
• Be suspicious: the green market is massive and companies want your money. Remember, it’s easier to make a sustainability claim about a product than actually make that product sustainable.