Greenwashing spins sustainability

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Volkswagen cheated on emissions tests. Bed Bath & Beyond called rayon “bamboo” because it sounded greener. Benjamin Moore, without evidence, claimed its paints would not emit volatile organic compounds—and then ginned up its own environmental seal for them.

They are among companies that got caught.

Greenwashing is disinformation put out by an organization to present an environmentally responsible public image. The U.S. Federal Trade Commission takes a dim view of it. It has issued Federal Green Guides to help marketers avoid making environmental claims that mislead consumers. And, it takes enforcement action against companies that step over the line. Volkswagen, Bed Bath & Beyond and Benjamin Moore are just three out of dozens of companies snagged by the FTC in recent years.

Read this post on Rochester’s pioneering role in sustainability: “A pioneer in the circular economy.”

Many more greenwashing companies likely fly under the radar, more spinning than sinning. In 2010, Bausch & Lomb sparked a minor uproarwith the words “Bausch & Lomb cares about the environment,” on the carton of its then-new Biotrue contact lens solution. “This carton and bottle are 100% recyclable.”

Big deal, environmentalists said; most cardboard cartons and plastic bottles are recyclable.

It’s not easy being green—but it can be tempting to fake it. In the world of market segmentation has arisen a psychographic called Lifestyles of Health and Sustainability, or LOHAS. Roughly 22 percent of Americans are LOHAS consumers, according to the Natural Marketing Institute, with spending power in the neighborhood of $400 billion.

Green sells.

Michael Boller is an associate professor and program director of sustainability at St. John Fisher College. He teaches his students to take a systems’ view of sustainability, measuring lifecycle impacts from beginning to end. Companies that claim sustainability should do the same, he says—and have the data to back it up.

“As consumers and citizens, we should demand they are following through and doing that lifecycle analysis,” Boller says.

So, to any company reaching into one’s wallet for the green, it’s in the consumer’s power to say: No data, no dollar.


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  1. Pingback: A pioneer in the circular economy - Rochester BeaconRochester Beacon

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