Many companies and products claim to be green. But what does that actually mean? In some cases, labels are misleading. What exactly does it mean when a company, service or product goes "green"? Sometimes a lot, sometimes very little. The term has invaded thousands of press releases, advertisements and product labels, rightfully winning it the top spot on at least one list of the most overused buzzwords last year.

That didn't make the term any less trendy this year: There's a dumpster-full of recent news stories regarding industries and corporations presenting "green solutions."

The Philadelphia Eagles just announced their football stadium will be adding solar panels and wind turbines to its exterior, in an effort to generate about 30% of the energy Lincoln Financial Field uses while saving tens of millions of dollars. Toy-maker Hasbro says it will stop using wire ties next year, while ensuring up to 75% of its packaging comes from recycled materials, as part of its "commitment to sustainability." The magazine Constructech, quoting government reports, says new federal codes will soon require greater energy efficiency in residential and commercial buildings.

And at Denver International Airport, you can now park your car at what the CEO of Propark America calls the greenest parking lot in the world. According to the Denver Post, the new facility uses alternative energy sources not only for lighting and heating, but also to supply power to recharging stations for electric-powered vehicles.

Where Green is Really Gray

Of course, the term "green" implies environmental responsibility, the concept of using less energy and resources while creating less pollution and perhaps reducing your "carbon footprint" (another phrase on the overused list).

There can be a large gray area, however, when it comes to defining what a business really means by "green". A recent study by the environmental marketing and consulting firm TerraChoice found misleading information on 95% of consumer products that made claims to being green.

"There's this terminology now in marketing called greenwashing," says Dr. Bruce Hutton, professor of business ethics and legal studies at the University of Denver's Daniels College of Business. "Companies...using the concept of being green and environmentally friendly to sell products when, in fact, they might not be all that environmentally friendly."

Greenwashing doesn't have to involve outright lies. For example, a company may truthfully say that it uses organic, home-grown cotton. But if takes large amounts of water to process that cotton – and flies the material halfway around the world to process it – that company's claim of being "green" may ring hollow.

Greenwashing's Silver Lining

Dr. Hutton thinks greenwashing might have a silver lining. After all, it wouldn't be happening if consumers weren't already interested in preserving the environment. The greenwashers, he says, "wouldn't go to the trouble of trying to brand something, even if the branding is under false pretenses, if they didn't understand that there's a shift going on in the consumer movement."

And that shift appears to be growing rapidly. The 2010 TerraChoice study found 73% more "green" products in U.S. and Canadian markets, compared to last year.

Dr. Hutton also points to studies of how people chose between various products and brands. After looking at price, quality and availability, he says, consumers also consider a company's reputation on issues such as social responsibility -- including sustainability and the environment.

"The environmental issues that we face, with things like water, aren't trendy, " he says. "Those issues aren't arguable, so they're not going to go away. People are starting to care about this stuff. But they won't care about it forever if they think they're getting screwed. Sooner or later consumers figure out [if certain marketing is] some kind of a ploy, that's really not helping the environment and maybe costing them more money, and [those companies] will lose the trust of consumers on issues that are about the environment."


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jammy

Everything is very open and very clear explanation of issues was truly information. Your website is very useful. Thanks for sharing

April 22 2011 at 8:43 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
KELLI2L

~ What I've noticed about corporations going GREEN: It means that they have switched the burden to the consumer. . . . for instance instead of them sending coupons to consumers - they now have forced the consumer to go online to get the coupons. . . . That means it is now up to the consumer to print out the coupons to bring to the store - to make the purchase (if they are not buying online). . . This move by the corporations has shifted the cost burden to the consumer instead of themselve (means MORE profits for THEM - - actually HIGHER COSTS for the consumer, since the costs of ink for printing is sky high as most of you have noticed. . . .Somehow the consumer needs to make this work for them too, possibly by demanding that the corporation honor the coupon without the consumer having to print it out......

November 30 2010 at 1:05 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to KELLI2L's comment
KELLI2L

P.S. = Green to the corporation (when they are asked) means they are offering the coupons online so less trees are cut-down for the printing....As I said above the coupons still have to be printed - but by the consumer ergo the cost transfer to the consumer...... so, trees are still being cut down !!! It's just plainly a cost savings for the greedy corporations (they also are saving on the mailing costs) A WIN WIN FOR THE CORPORATIONS..... BUT I DON'T SEE ANYTHING GREEN ABOUT THIS "SCAM"

November 30 2010 at 1:12 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
divemedic911

GREEN is the warm and fuzzy word that implies you care about the environment even though your over paying for less and tend to use more of it. However if you truely believe everytime you start your car you kill a bug 12,000 miles away then you need to off yourself because your simple breaths are doing it too. ignorance is soooo bliss.

November 30 2010 at 11:10 AM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply
mlaurel58

What green really means is that Al Gore gets a "taste".

November 30 2010 at 10:29 AM Report abuse +3 rate up rate down Reply
flymach83

GREEN refers to dollars and always has. It is the biggest ruse ever portrayed on the public. Anytime you see some product or cause with the word GREEN attached just look at it in terms of some entity receiving money in connection with it whether it is a commercial venture, some environmental group, or some government program, it always involves dollars. Like they say " just follow the money"

November 30 2010 at 9:55 AM Report abuse +3 rate up rate down Reply
thescot

It means they have conned you into paying more for the same product and probably has been made the same as an ungreen product, but we are not able to tell the differece and they know it.

November 30 2010 at 4:46 AM Report abuse +6 rate up rate down Reply
Annika

Although I'm interested in "green" and "organic" products, I too have noticed a lot of "greenwashing". One example, CFLs. Sure, they consume less power, but they contain mercury, and they don't last as long as advertised. Another is bamboo flooring. Yes, bamboo is a very renewable resource, but it has to be shipped here from China. How much fuel does that burn? And China is chopping down other trees to make room for more bamboo. That's not renewable. Similar things are happening in the organic food business. With a steady growth of 15%/year, agribusiness has caught on to organic food as well. So now huge fields of organic beans, corn etc. are being grown. Sure, they don't get sprayed with pesticides, but it's monocultures nonetheless. Not exactly sustainable. Or "free-range" chickens -organic or "all-natural"- who in reality never get to graze out on the range because the "range" is nothing but an empty strip of dirt. Not exactly what people have in mind when they look at happy grazing chickens on the label. So what are we to do? Investigate everything we buy, from flooring to lightbulbs, from "organic" food to "free-ranging" chickens. I found that the "local" movement actually gives consumers the benefit of physically being able to check out just how those chickens live or how those beans are grown. I found lots of small family-operated farms that don't just advertise "green" or "organic" products, but live the concept behind it. It's a bit harder to do with manufactured articles like lightbulbs etc., but with a little googling you can find out about those products, too.

November 29 2010 at 10:40 PM Report abuse +3 rate up rate down Reply
alpambuena

anytime i hear anything about diets, i turn it off, and the same goes for anything that involves the green movement. these two subjects are money ******* gimmicks, that will make a few very rich, and maintain an industry, that is more ponzi-schemes, than substance. these have turned into billion dollar industries, and i just do not see where we will notice anything different in the world, fifty years from now.

November 29 2010 at 8:26 PM Report abuse +4 rate up rate down Reply
alpambuena

anytime i hear anything about diets, i turn it off, and the same goes for anything that involves the green movement. these two subjects are money ******* gimmicks, that will make a few very rich, and maintain an industry, that is more ponzi-schemes, than substance. these have turned into billion dollar industries, and i just do not see where we will notice anything different in the world, fifty years from now.

November 29 2010 at 8:26 PM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply
2 replies to alpambuena's comment
rjbnhl99

i disagree. i know a family owned company that makes paper products from sugar cane waste that is normally burned. They're not cutting down trees + using a waste product to make paper. Sugar cane is in such abundance and rapidly renewable, trees aren't. They are saving trees and eliminating the burning of this sugar cane stalk which is a big emitter of Co2. And They are by no means billionaires.

November 30 2010 at 8:06 AM Report abuse -2 rate up rate down Reply
Willie

rjb , that company started out green , this article is about companies putting the word "green" on thier labels and such.

November 30 2010 at 11:00 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
OverTheHillsBill

I am so sick of hearing about Green this and Green that, that I refuse to buy anything from any company that mentions Green! It is a scam, there is no future in building solar panels and windmills.

November 29 2010 at 3:11 PM Report abuse +10 rate up rate down Reply