How Greenwashing Works

Regulating Greenwashing

The United States Federal Trade Commission is updating its green marketing guidelines.
The United States Federal Trade Commission is updating its green marketing guidelines.
Paul J. Richards/AFP/Getty Images

While various government and civilian groups monitor truth in advertising, the regulation of environmental claims is still an evolving area. In the United States, the Federal Trade Commission recently began hearings to update its 1998 green marketing guidelines, announcing that there was a "heightened potential for deception" in the market [source: NY Times].

In other parts of the world, governmental bodies such as the United Kingdom's Advertising Standards Authority weigh in on greenwashing issues while European law requires that advertisers list their CO2­ emissions in advertisements. As for the companies themselves, many push for continued self-regulation or encourage the involvement of self-regulation organizations such as the European Advertising Standards Alliance and the National Advertising Division of Council of Better Business Bureaus in the United States.

When governmental regulation falls short or self-regulation is questionable, advocacy and watchdog groups step in. The majority of greenwashing charges are leveled by environmental groups like Greenpeace, Friends of Europe and Co-op America, along with other groups like CorpWatch and GreenBiz that focus directly on greenwashing or corporate environmental involvement. The Web site even allows users to post examples of suspected greenwashing. Participants vote and rate the deceptiveness of advertising.

From the consumers who monitor it to the big businesses that practice it, greenwashing exemplifies society's increasing attention to its own impact on the environment. Even when corporate promotions of new green technologies and global environmental efforts are self-serving or deceptive, the message still reaches the masses that mankind's impact on the natural world must be taken seriously.

­For more information on greenwashing, watchdog groups and environmental issues, please look over the links below.

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  • "The Accelerated Phaseout of Class I Ozone-Depleting Substances" The Environmental Protection Agency. Oct. 4, 2007.
  • Alter, Lloyd. "Greenwash Watch: SC Johnson's Greenlist." Treehugger. Jan 18. 2008.
  • Case, Scott. "The Six Sins of Greenwashing." TerraChoice Environmental Marketing. November 2007.
  • Fahey, Anna. "Is Greenwashing Good for You?" Grist: Environmental News & Commentary. May 5, 2007
  • Fetterman, Mindy. "Boomers discover that it's easy being green." USA Today. Dec. 19, 2007.
  • "Greenwashing the Car" Scientific American. Oct. 19, 2002.
  • Green Washing Index.
  • Karliner, Joshua. "A Brief History of Greenwash." CorpWatch. March 22, 2001.
  • Melillo, Wendy. "POV: It's Not Easy Being Green." Adweek. Jan. 14 2008.
  • Moore, Bill. "The Greening of Detroit." EV World. Feb. 16, 2006.
  • "Oji falsified recycled-paper ratios used in products." The Yomiuri Shimbun. Jan. 19, 2008.
  • Reeves, Scott. "High Hopes, Big Hurdles for Hydrogen." CNBC. Feb. 16, 2007
  • Roman, Kenneth, et all. "How to Advertise." St. Martin's Press. 2003.
  • Romm, Joseph. "Those greenwashing Chevron ads." Grist: Environmental News & Commentary. Oct. 2, 2007.
  • "Saab warned to withdraw 'greenwash' ads or face legal challenge" EUBusiness. Jan 10, 2008.
  • Severson, Kim. "Be It Ever So Homespun, There's Nothing Like Spin." The New York Times. Jan. 3, 2007
  • Story, Louise. "F.T.C. Asks if Carbon-Offset Money Is Well Spent." The New York Times. Jan. 9, 2008.
  • Sweney, Mark. "Boeing ad grounded over green claims." The Guardian. Nov. 28, 2007.
  • "USDA Organic Food Standards and Labels." USDA Agricultural Marketing Service. January 2007.