The term green washing denotes the use of false or misleading information concerning green marketing by companies to compel consumers to buy their products on the perception that the company is environmentally friendly. It involves the misleading use of green marketing to endorse a false perception that the company products or policies are environmentally friendly. Green washing has been growing in the recent years mainly due to the increasing demand for green products. Due to increasing concerns about global warming, consumers are increasingly demanding for economically responsible products (Hart, 1997).
Companies that seek to survive have no option but to either provide these products or to fake them. Another reason why green washing is growing is due to the fact that the sales of green oriented products have increased. A study carried out in the United States showed that in 2007, 328 products labelled “environmentally friendly” were launched by major manufacturers. This was a significant increase as in 2002 only 5 products were labelled the same (Bansal & Roth, 2000).
The rise of green products in the market has forced companies to undertake green washing in order to compete effectively.
Another reason why green washing is growing is that the communication of environmental messages is still not controlled by any industrial wide standards. Companies are free to disseminate information about their environmental policies without any restrictions hence they can provide misleading information at will. The final reason why green washing is common is that government action and regulation is still pending. An analysis by HSBC on passed and pending economic stimulus packages of 15 countries reported that over US $3 trillion is intended to stimulate economies for the next ten years (Bazzillier & Vauday, 2009).
A large percentage of this money will support environmental objectives. This situation has resulted in the increase of lobbying which in turn has resulted in a situation whereby companies have to hunt tactical opportunities that do not conform to their messages on environmental friendliness. Ways of Carrying out Green Washing There are several techniques of green washing employed by companies. Although only a few literatures exist on the subject, the basis of identifying these techniques is that proposed by the TerraChoice Environmental Group.
The group did research on the manners with which companies mislead consumers about their environmental friendliness and came up with six ways which they dubbed “the six sins of green washing. ” The first sin is “the sinof hidden trade off”. This involves the attempt by companies to promote a product as green by using only one environmental attribute or an intolerable narrow set of attributes disregarding other more important environmental issues. Although the claims are not false, they portray a “greener” picture of the product which cannot be supported by a full environmental analysis.
The second sin is “the sin of no proof. ” This involves all information disseminated by a company about environmental friendliness but cannot be validated by easily accessible supporting information. According to a study by Bazillier and Vauday (2009), communication of full CSR activities by companies to customers is impossible. As a result, two types of information communicated to consumers exist, hard and soft information. Hard information is that which can be verified by customers but tends to be costly while soft information is that which is readily available to consumers but cannot be verified.