Greenwashing and the Beauty of Capitalism

As we said we would, here goes on “Greenwashing”…

What is it?

Greenwashing (a compound word modeled on “whitewash”) is a form of spin in which green PR or green marketing is deceptively used to promote the perception that an organization’s products, aims or policies are environmentally friendly.

Contra Ayn Rand, successful businessmen are not consciously philosophical, at all. They have an inexplicable, unteachable practical knack, and usually, have no knowledge, nor interest in what money “is” or what it stands for, or “represents”. The intuitions and language of businessmen are often wrong, you knowing the truth doesn’t mean you will make any (more) money at all, and teaching successful businessmen what’s up to increase profits is a complete failure of ROT (Return On Time).

“Ideals”? As Adam Smith wrote, every business meetup turns to collusion. Rand’s calling businessmen a persecuted “minority” is hilarious, not to mention those Rothbard called “Big Business”.

Business is all about giving the people what they want.

Well, what do they want?

  1. Free.
  2. Perfect.
  3. Now.

It’s the name of a business book, which hardly anyone has read.

They want certain buying experiences (shopping as therapy), to be lied to about how sausages are made, to feel rectitude (in accordance with their current values), to receive honor as “valued customers”, to avoid losing face (by overpaying or later noticing defects in purchases), and so on.

So when business caters to our all-too-human religious frailty, we have the chicken and egg problem. Does increasing supply of smartphones to Yeshiva students increase or hasten Tarbus Ra’ah? Are low culture purveyors actively worsening culture on the margins or merely catching freefalling paper money from gusts of air? The demand is already there, so why not cash in? And there’s still another question: Would the “unseen” alternative entrepreneurs be better in these respects or worse? Again, if the demand (read: Yetzer Hara) is there, a Nisayon can neither help nor hurt.

And if that’s all wrong, where does it end? With actual Lifnei Iver, or earlier?

Media is a business, too, by the way.

Businessmen didn’t make anyone believe in anti-property “environmentalist” woo. They may themselves agree or disagree with it (they don’t understand it, nor care about it much, as it happens!). But they do firmly intend to make money off of the actual consumers, before, after, or during whatever beliefs, crazes, or notions are present, regardless, be it imperialism, Mussar, Rabbi X, tobacco, communism, book X, tulips, crosswords, religion X, whatever. Isms are just altered demand, product differentiation, and the costs of doing business.

If and when (and where!) the backlash against racism/socialism/environmentalism/militarism/protectionism/etc. comes, you can be sure those businesses who reverse the trend will be rewarded, again. Which they know. So they will. Greenwashing is just one illustration.

I’ll use shortened excerpts from Wikipedia on Greenwashing to spur thought (footnotes left out):

Evidence that an organization is greenwashing often comes from pointing out the spending differences: when significantly more money or time has been spent advertising being “green” (that is, operating with consideration for the environment),than is actually spent on environmentally sound practices. Greenwashing efforts can range from changing the name or label of a product to evoke the natural environment on a product that contains harmful chemicals to multimillion-dollar advertising campaigns portraying highly polluting energy companies as eco-friendly… While greenwashing is not new, its use has increased over recent years to meet consumer demand for environmentally friendly goods and services… Many corporate structures use greenwashing as a way to repair public perception of their brand.
Greenwashing is just marketing. Marketing itself can be fraudulent or not. Wikipedia, reflecting our age, obscures the chasm between the two:
Why do they do this? “[A] study found that 77% of people said the environmental reputation of the company affected whether they would buy their products.”
The problem is compounded by lax enforcement by regulatory agencies such as the Federal Trade Commission in the United States, the Competition Bureau in Canada, and the Committee of Advertising Practice and the Broadcast Committee of Advertising Practice in the United Kingdom.
Right! Mathematically speaking, how does “lax enforcement” compound anything?! Doesn’t “compound” mean to multiply? Ah, they mean by moral hazard. So what else is new?
Critics of the practice suggest that the rise of greenwashing, paired with ineffective regulation, contributes to consumer skepticism of all green claims, and diminishes the power of the consumer in driving companies toward greener solutions for manufacturing processes and business operations.
Guess what? Why don’t you create competing consumer report certification (like Hechshers), instead of pushing tyrannical regulation?
Here’s a start:
Companies may pursue environmental certification to avoid greenwashing through independent verification of their green claims. For example, the Carbon Trust Standard launched in 2007 with the stated aim “to end ‘greenwash’ and highlight firms that are genuine about their commitment to the environment”.
I hope it’s private.
In addition, the political term “linguistic detoxification” describes when, through legislation or other government action, the definitions of toxicity for certain substances are changed, or the name of the substance is changed, so that fewer things fall under a particular classification as toxic. The origin of this phrase has been attributed to environmental activist and author Barry Commoner.
This is unrelated!
Now that you bring it up, however:

A small-time criminal breaks the law. A medium criminal bypasses the law. A major criminal perpetrates his crime by means of the law.

By the way, this is how the absolutely 100% pure, distilled, water bottle industry gets to add sugar, etc. to their fresh, sparkling, untouched water welling from wells in an exotic, untouched location.
Some examples:
The term greenwashing was coined by New York environmentalist Jay Westervelt in a 1986 essay regarding the hotel industry’s practice of placing placards in each room promoting reuse of towels ostensibly to “save the environment.” Westervelt noted that, in most cases, little or no effort toward reducing energy waste was being made by these institutions—as evidenced by the lack of cost reduction this practice effected. Westervelt opined that the actual objective of this “green campaign” on the part of many hoteliers was, in fact, increased profit. Westervelt thus labeled this and other outwardly environmentally conscientious acts with a greater, underlying purpose of profit increase as greenwashing.
Genius! Improve your corporate image by guilt-tripping customers into saving you money via degrees of physical personal discomfort!
Environmentalists have argued that the Bush Administration’s Clear Skies Initiative actually weakens air pollution laws.
Surprise, surprise! Let’s go pass another law to fix that law!
Many food products have packaging that evokes an environmentally friendly imagery even though there has been no attempt made at lowering the environmental impact of its production. In 2009, European McDonald’s changed the colour of their logos from yellow and red to yellow and green; a spokesman for the company explained that the change was “to clarify [their] responsibility for the preservation of natural resources.”
Love it!
Environmental accounting can easily be used to pretend that environmental impacts of a company are reduced while actual impacts increase. This has been shown, for example, in a case of corporate carbon accounting: the company celebrated reduced relative emissions while absolute emissions increased. The same company achieved reducing current emissions by “correcting” past emissions as higher (effecting a calculation that presents current emissions as relatively lower).
Whoever said bookkeeping is boring?! For many more fun examples, consult the original Wikipedia article.
And here, courtesy of Wikipedia is a great practical guide to Greenwashing:
According to the Home and Family Edition, 95% consumer products claiming to be green were discovered to commit at least one of the “Sins of Greenwashing”. The Seven Sins of Greenwashing are as follows:
  1. Sin of the Hidden Trade-off, committed by suggesting a product is “green” based on an unreasonably narrow set of attributes without attention to other important environmental issues.
  2. Sin of No Proof, committed by an environmental claim that cannot be substantiated by easily accessible supporting information or by a reliable third-party certification.
  3. Sin of Vagueness, committed by every claim that is so poorly defined or broad that its real meaning is likely to be misunderstood by the consumer.
  4. Sin of Worshiping False Labels is committed when a claim, communicated either through words or images, gives the impression of a third-party endorsement where no such endorsement exists.
  5. Sin of Irrelevance, committed by making an environmental claim that may be truthful but which is unimportant or unhelpful for consumers seeking environmentally preferable products.
  6. Sin of Lesser of Two Evils, committed by claims that may be true within the product category, but that risk distracting consumers from the greater environmental impact of the category as a whole.
  7. Sin of Fibbing, the least frequent Sin, is committed by making environmental claims that are simply false.
There is so much to say here. Let’s just comment on the second-to-last one. Either the product “category” is being bought anyway or it isn’t!
Enough for now.

Comments are closed, but trackbacks and pingbacks are open.