WASHINGTON — In a United States where climate change legislation, concerns about foreign oil dependence, and mandatory curbside recycling are becoming the "new normal" companies across a variety of sectors are seeing the benefit of promoting their "greenness" in advertisements, according to Environmental Health Perspectives.
According to the article, the term for ads and labels that promise more environmental benefit than they deliver is "greenwashing." Today, some critics are asking whether the impact of greenwashing can go beyond a breach of marketing ethics — can greenwashing actually harm health?
Greenwashing is not a recent phenomenon; since the mid-1980s the term has gained broad recognition and acceptance to describe the practice of making unwarranted or overblown claims of sustainability or environmental friendliness in an attempt to gain market share, the article stated.
Although greenwashing has been around for many years, its use has escalated sharply in recent years as companies have strived to meet escalating consumer demand for greener products and services, according to advertising consultancy TerraChoice Environmental Marketing
Compounding the problem is the fact that environmental advertising — in the United States, at least — is not tightly regulated, the article noted.
The Federal Trade Commission
(FTC), the agency responsible for protecting the public from unsubstantiated or unscrupulous advertising, does have a set of environmental marketing guidelines known as the Green Guides, the article added.
The FTC originally planned to begin a review of the Green Guides in 2009, but the commission moved the schedule up, according to Laura DeMartino, assistant director of the FTC Division of Enforcement, in response to a changing landscape in environmental marketing.
"The reason, at least anecdotally, was an increase in environmental marketing claims in many different sectors of the economy and newer claims that were not common, and therefore not addressed, in the existing Guides," DeMartino concluded.