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Greenwashing: The Color of Money


greenwashing: advertising that spins misleading claims about a product's " greenness"

Start looking for greenwashing and you end up finding it everywhere: in the airport ("Thank you for your patience as we conserve energy — only one shuttle train operating during nonpeak hours"), on the television (coal can be "clean"?), even in the dock of the Straight Talk Express, Washington D.C. (an initiative dubbed "Clear Skies," you guessed it, actually weakens air-pollution regulations). But these are only the most obvious forms of the tricky advertising trend.

  Environmentalist Jay Westerveld coined the term to expose the common hotel practice of encouraging guests to reuse linens — ostensibly to save water but in fact, Westerveld argued in a now-famous 1986 essay, to save money. Greenwashing has since grown in stature to encompass all sorts of misleading marketing tactics, from the "eco-friendly" shape of Arrowhead water bottles to some companies' very names (see: petroleum giant BP, Beyond Petroleum).

  With a slippery definition and no official means of certification, independent watchdogs like the Greenwashing Index (www.greenwashingindex.com), a joint effort by the University of Oregon and EnviroMedia Social Marketing, have begun cropping up. But a simpler measure can be made in color: If an entity's ads about going green outpace their actual efforts toward sustainability, it's likely another type of green they're after. — Noah Bonaparte Pais

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