Avoid Scams: Look Beyond the Green
You've seen the TV commercials: A man wearing jeans walking through a field or a forest, taking in the sights and sounds of nature. The scene is full of green, and the man seems to be protecting the land. But then you find out he works for a big oil company, a company that's trying to help save the planet by making vague changes. You know it doesn't make sense — but it does all look convincing.
Listen to your inner skeptic. Just because a company has wrapped itself in green doesn't mean it's really green. They're just greenwashing the ugly truth and trying to convince you that they care about the environment.
How common has greenwashing become?
The practice is widespread, and the term is so widely used that it actually made it into the Oxford English Dictionary. You'd be hard-pressed to find a company that isn't trying to green up its image. So take off your green-colored glasses and take greenwashing with a grain of organic sea salt.
This new trend toward greenwashing comes to us courtesy of Madison Avenue, whose goal it is to make their clients appear benevolent and kind and environmentally friendly. These days, going green brings in more green (money, that is). Consumers and investors alike are attracted to companies who claim to be affecting environmental change. So being thought of as green makes a company seem better and better poised for future success. The problem is that the changes themselves are often created out of thin air or out of marketing spin.
How can you tell what's real? Start with the sniff test. If something smells fishy (like an environmentally friendly oil corporation), it probably is. Take British Petroleum, a corporation that even changed its logo (now a green and yellow sun) to make it look like a friend of the environment. Its corporate website also spouts green ideals and talks about a cleaner future, but it doesn't highlight the fact that in 2007 the company won a hard-fought battle to gain a permit to dump even more toxic waste into Lake Michigan. Or consider Archer Daniels Midland, a company that prides itself on creating biofuels but skims over the fact that creating biofuels actually produces so much pollution that it effectively erases any environmental savings. It also doesn't mention that planting all the palm and corn needed to make biofuels involves clearing land (often by setting fire to it), which emits more than a billion tons of greenhouse gases into our air.
Bottom line: Expect greenwashing, and look past the spin. Do a basic Internet search on any green company you're looking to invest in and focus on the news stories. It's easy to make your corporate website look like an environmental sit-in, but it's a lot harder to greenwash the Internet. You can also search dedicated not-for-profit websites that call out offenders, like CorpWatch (