eco ramblings

a dialogue with an Eco Patriot

Are Consumers Also Green Washers?

Posted by Luke on June 21, 2010

I read an article today that challenged consumers to put their money where their mouth is.  It was the first time I have heard someone call consumers more of green washers than companies. The article tries to explain how consumers in surveys claim they are buying more green products and are willing to spend more money on brands that are sustainable, but the reality is that they aren’t following through with their wallets.

On one hand, it’s an interesting argument and point to discuss.  On the other hand, I don’t buy it.  I don’t think people are green washers as individuals.  If my neighbor tells me about the energy efficient windows he just installed, I’m excited for him and also inspired by him. I don’t think for a second that he’s green washing me.  Why would he care to do that?  He has no reason to.

For companies, though, they have images to uphold.  Their products have to be better priced, higher quality, more trendy, longer lasting, more advanced, and greener than their competitors.  They have to pit themselves against other brands in a bloody-red ocean of competition and advertising noise.  They have to find some way to stand out.  And the way to stand out is often to be more green than their competitors.  For this reason, I undoubtedly think companies are more susceptible to green washing than consumers.  Consumers don’t have anyone to compete with.  Have you ever tried to out-green your next-door neighbor with the hopes of appealing more to the neighbor across the street?  No.

Believe it or not, some companies are becoming more green because they truly care about the planet.  The employees that are implementing those sustainability initiatives at those companies actually want to make a positive impact with their company’s resources.  Not to mention that having a strong sustainability program has been proven to increase employee engagement.  A large survey by Brighter Planet found that 80% of U.S. workers polled believe it’s important to work for a company that makes the environment a top priority.  What company wouldn’t want more employee engagement and greater satisfaction?

The unfortunate part in all of this, however, is that companies will continue to feel compelled to overstate their greenness.  It continues to be a deciding factor in some consumers’ buying decisions.  As such, green will continue to be a product or brand attribute that companies advertise, whether accurate or not.

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