INDIANAPOLIS – Have you ever thought twice when you make a purchase that the imagery of the clear sky, or the words eco-friendly, sustainable could be an exaggeration or a lie?
It’s called Greenwashing.
“Why does it happen in the first place?”
Sam Carpenter is the executive director of the Hoosier Environmental Council. He said research shows those claims matter to consumers and companies know you’ll pay more.
“I think for a business to really make a difference, then they need to have that commitment through their actions and not just their words,” Carpenter added.
The council is working to make Indiana a cleaner place to live. Carpenter said the best way to detect Greenwashing is to become an informed consumer.
“Because that line is something that’s kind of a personal decision a lot of times,” said Carpenter.
Professor Mark Mayer agrees. Before becoming a clinical associate professor of marketing at IU’s Kelley School of Business, he was a brand manager for large companies.
“I think it’s like any other technique where the vast majority of companies are trying to do the right thing for consumers and for the environment,” Mayer explained, “But those companies actually get hurt by companies that do Greenwash.”
He advises, that if you’re picking a product over another because of an environmental claim – do your homework. There are resources out there like TruthinAdvertising.org where you can track class action lawsuits and stay informed.
“There’s an example of toothpaste tubes, where the products maybe recyclable but tubes are generally not recyclable, so even though the materials say they are recyclable, in practice – not going to be recycled,” said Mayer.
In 2016, the Federal Trade Commission filed a complaint that Volkswagen deceived consumers by promoting clean diesel when it wasn’t.
Carpenter added, “They had their clean diesel engines and they promoted them as clean cars and people with environmental interest purchased those cars and then later you learned they were completely lying about their e-mission testing – that’s greenwashing.”
To avoid being fooled, but still choose a green lifestyle, experts say it’s up to us, the industry, and the legal system to hold companies accountable.
“We have to be vigilant to make sure that others aren’t going down this road that don’t deserve to be on it,” said Mayer.
You can also report any companies that you believe is not being truthful about their advertising or marketing to the Better Business Bureau. You can file a consumer complaint here.