Managing Waste Perceptions

Written by Laura Braun, ESLLC 2016-2017

“’Greenwashing’ strives to convince consumers that environmental problems are being tackled by industry, so that individuals can carry on buying, and governments do not need to intervene,”—Heather Rogers, Message in a Bottle, pg. 121

The idea of Global Warming was/is super inconvenient to our past/current commercial systems and has been since the beginning of this disposable world (aka the 1930s). When companies started to come up with more efficient ways to sell their items and people started to become attracted to the idea of disposable items, waste started to become a business instead of a noun. However, naturally, people started to question the effect of this new perception and thus began to ‘irritate’ the companies who were benefitting from waste. So what did they do? They pretended that the fault was within the consumer and that recycling was the way to go and fix all of our problems. These businesses became ‘green’ and advertised their love for their environment. Essentially, this was only a disguise. Consumers wanted, and still want, to be reassured that they are doing something to better the planet and that their consumer habits aren’t contributing to our environmental crisis. The commercial markets knew this, so they saw it as an opportunity instead of a setback. 

Currently, Greenwashing is just as prominent as it was during the 1940s and its just as hidden. People don’t realize that a little recycling and reserving energy isn’t going to save the world. We are in desperate need of governmental and legislative reform and a change in perspective. More importantly, we need a revolution in our industries and more boundaries that encompass them. Our commercial market is currently limitless, and that is not necessarily a good thing. Limits would help encourage an actual ‘green’ market full with reusables and only essential trash. 

So what can the common man do to help begin this revolution? Well, the first step is always to educate yourself so you can recognize greenwashing when you see it. According to the Greenwashing Index (at greenwashingindex.com) there are 3 ways to spot greenwashing:

  1. The Truth: If you see a green ad, take a look at the company as a whole. Can you easily find more information about their sustainable business practices on their website? Do they have a comprehensive environmental story? Is there believable information to substantiate the green claims you saw in the ad? If not, buyer beware.
  2. The Whole Truth: Next, try this. Google the company name plus the word “environment” and see what pops up. This is far from scientific, but if consumers or environmental advocates have a beef with the company’s track record, something’s bound to pop up.
  3. And Nothing But the Truth: “I know it when I see it.” Those are the words of Supreme Court Justice Warren Potter in a ruling on hard-core pornography in 1964. As weird as it may seem, those are words to live by for the consumer and green marketing claims. If you spot a green ad, how does it strike your gut? Does it ring true and authentic, or is it obviously hype? Smart shoppers abound globally, and your own scrutiny of green marketing claims is one more item to throw into your shopping cart.

The Greenwashing Index’s states that,“This site is here to make sure that doesn’t happen. 

Our goal is to educate consumers about how to “read” an ad and encourage them to decide for themselves if what they’re seeing is greenwashing. Our hope is that with a better-informed public, businesses will start to:

  • Have a sustainable business before they advertise they’re a sustainable business
  • Be accountable for the sustainable practices they claim to have

That way we can put an end to the concept of greenwashing and get busy with real environmental change.” 

This mission statement is so important and their action plan is crucial to stopping companies in their tracks. Our society needs to wake up to what is occurring right in front of them, and if this doesn’t happen, there is no way things are going to change environmentally and socially.  


Other Sources: greenwashingindex.com Message in a Bottle by Heather Rogers. 

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