Oh my God, we're turning green.

These days, it seems everywhere we turn, there's yet another ad or media blitz promoting an eco-friendly effort—whether it's Chevron's commitment to renewable energy, the USA Network's "green" character of the month or a magazine honoring companies who separate cans and bottles from the regular trash. Every other day, there's another fast food or beverage chain "going green."

The green effort has officially become a craze, and ads and marketing for these efforts are as ubiquitous as the iPod was several years ago.

Enter The EnviroMedia Greenwash Index, an interactive forum that holds companies accountable for greenwashing with a five point rating scale. The more the greenwash, the higher the score.

"It’s greenwashing when a company or organization spends more time and money claiming to be 'green' through advertising and marketing than actually implementing business practices that minimize environmental impact," the group says. "It’s whitewashing, but with a green brush."

Example?

"A hotel chain that calls itself 'green' because it allows guests to choose to sleep on the same sheets and reuse towels, but actually does very little to save water and energy where it counts — on its grounds, with its appliances and lighting, in its kitchens and with its vehicle fleet."

If you're a business who's feeling the pinch to employ environmentally-friendly business practices just because everyone else is doing it, the good news is, you're off the hook. Apparently the craze has spawned a counter craze: watchdogging for greenwash.

Earnest efforts such as you won't be able to sleep at night if you don't recycle or reusing shopping bags because mama always told you to respect the Earth are, of course, justifiable reasons to be eco-friendly, as is complying with industry regulations. And usually, if these are our intentions, we're not seeking public praise for them anyway.

But if you feel eco-friendly practices will earn you more press, get you on the "Hot Green List" of a local magazine or be a great way to hobnob with Al Gore or Leonardo DiCaprio, it might serve you best to rethink your intentions, and therefore your green strategy (if you're thinking of one at all).

If you approach your eco-friendly efforts with integrity and from the heart, your message will be clear, credible and an even stronger way to enhance customer loyalty.

Just some food for thought.

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Tags: eco-friendly, green, greenwash, marketing

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Comment by Nathan on February 14, 2008 at 4:21pm
This month Fast Company has a cover article on Greenwashing. It provided some unique insights on how companies are trying to appear green to the public while doing the sheer opposite behind the curtain.

Check it out
Comment by Judy "the foodie" Asman on February 6, 2008 at 11:48am
Thanks, Mike and David,

Good point, Mike. In my experience, companies who use justice issues, philanthropy or causes to generate public appeal often end up using those efforts as starting points to greater programs and involvement (whether or not that was their original intention). So it can also end up a good thing in the long haul.

Ultimately, it depends on the individual. I am not a full-fledged environmentalist by any stretch of the word. But I do my best and have my own ways of showing kindness to Mother Earth that are inexpensive, meaningful and practical to maintain.

The challenge for businesses is "green" is relevant right now. So if proprietors are looking to get publicity, this will be one of the angles they might most likely take in news releases. Even if they go about it backwards, i.e., they start the eco-friendly project just so they can tie it into their story. I can see this being a temptation for many. It's what editors want to see because they need to compete with other publications discussing the same issue.

Taking the focus off of environmentalism, businesses might go on about being, say, dog-friendly since the pet industry is huge right now and more and more dog owners are wanting to take their four-legged companions whereever they go. In marketing, it's all relative.

David, the wind energy effort is a really progressive undertaking and sets a good example for other businesses. Good for you for spreading the word! I look forward to learning more.
Comment by David King on February 6, 2008 at 11:27am
Regarding the "no respect" comment I'm just going to suggest that most of us act in enlightened self interest. For my venue I spent the bucks to reduce my electric load as far as possible and then bought 100% wind to cover the remainder. I did this for all the right reasons. But you can bet your pants I'm gonna tell everyone I can what we're doing!
Comment by Mike on February 4, 2008 at 8:27pm
Judy,
I agree with what you say.
I must say though any effort to be Green ,even with the wrong intentions, is a step in the right direction.
Comment by Judy "the foodie" Asman on February 4, 2008 at 11:51am
Hi, Mark,

So true. The idea of environmental sustainability shifts the paradigm from reaction to response, long-term, organic planning and personal accountability.

Thanks for posting the Jerry Greenfield interview. I look forward to reading it.
Comment by Mark McKellier on February 3, 2008 at 3:00pm
Hi Judy,
I've no respect for companies jumping on the green bandwagon in order to sell more product, and not to make a difference to whether their processes, manufacturing or otherwise, are sustainable. And that should be the buzz word on every companies mind - is my business environmentally sustainable? What impact is my business having on my neighbours, not just on my road, in my state, or even my country, but globally. I posted a great interview with Jerry Greenfield of Ben & Jerrys who talks about being a good neighbour, we should all follow his example :)
Comment by Judy "the foodie" Asman on February 3, 2008 at 12:01pm
Thanks for your replies everyone!

Surfer Girl, that's in interesting distinction you made between the American and Aussie cultures. We are big on packaging and promoting causes here. But, as with all not-so-great marketing efforts, the results are always short-term. I could have sworn we were saving Africa from hunger and malaria and helping Hurricane victims rebuild homes. But those efforts now seem as irrelevant as Microsoft's Zune. Much in the same way the iPhone trumped the attention on the new MP3 player, green marketing has eclipsed other social justice efforts.

Thomas, your post is excellent! And a great companion to this topic. My message deals with eco-friendly marketing as a mask for minimal operational practices. I have much to learn from you and other restaurateurs employing environmentally conscious programs in earnest.

Hi, Matt. Wow, the trajectory between the Sierra Club and the glossy mag is choice. I too think there's hope for environmentally friendly efforts. I mentioned the index as an FYI and an inspiration to folks who literally feel peer-pressured into going green because of the hype. Either way, I think we can all agree, if the eco-friendly practice feels good and right, then just do it!
Comment by Matt Urdan on February 3, 2008 at 9:58am
Judy, this is a great post!

It's funny that even "green" environmental groups for the longest time didn't embrace green practices. For example, when I was a member of the Sierra Club in the 80s and 90s, Sierra Magazine was still being printed on glossy paper with no recycled content or post-consumer waste. That may have changed in the last decade, but I don't know for sure.

Certainly however, I think now we're finally thinking and acting green, even if we're giving mostly lip service. It's encouraging, but sad at the same time. What I believe is driving the trend is the increased cost of gasoline. Suddenly, there's a willingness to produce and market hybrid and fuel-efficient cars, and with the auto companies focusing on energy efficiency, every other company is thinking how to leverage the word "green" to maintain or to gain competitive edges in the changing global economy.

It is sad that it has taken resource scarcity to finally propel a green movement on an unprecedented scale, but at least there's hope. Yes companies will engage in green-washing---that's a term that I'd like to see banned from the English language even though it's just been coined, maybe someone should call the folks at Lake Superior State--but to the extent that we're becoming focused on green trends, and green companies and green practices, it should give us all hope for the future and redouble our personal efforts to do whatever we can to live in more environmentally friendly and sustainable ways.

Cheers!
Comment by Thomas Shackelford on February 3, 2008 at 12:17am
Well I feel like an ass after posting my blog about Being Green. Bad timing on my part but i assure you my intensions aren't just to pick up on a trend but to actually make a little bit of a difference in todays society.

Especially in the midwest where things like that are often overlooked.

Is it too late to make a difference?

I think companies(and people like myself) are just finally becoming more aware of what needs to happen to keep this big rock we live on a little bit better.

My question isn't about how to win people over but how to do it affordably?

I know I'll feel a little bit better.
Comment by Surfer Girl on February 2, 2008 at 11:03pm
Hey foodie judie...cool that you are a green maven and my new friend, thanks!

Being "green" is just so American..cause-like...American's love causes and naming them. Just think about what you do and take the IQ test. If you think it may harm our planet, don't do it.

I do think that it is fab to just do your part. I was raised eco-aware and Aussies are just used to being aware. Glad the states are going green but I hope it's not just a fad to look good.

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