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Brainwashing has been prevalent in media for while now. America’s enemies during the war (pick whichever you prefer) were doing it way back since the black and white era of film noir.  Then the aliens arrived and are reputed to be at it even now, if one is to believe the X-files. And last but not the least, the soda companies allegedly sneak in subtle messages on cinema screens to make you run out and buy. But now it’s the 21st century – brainwashing is out and greenwashing is in!

The dictionary definition of Greenwash is “disinformation disseminated by an organization so as to present an environmentally responsible public image. Derivatives greenwashing (n).Origin from green on the pattern of whitewash.” We are left to imagine a horde of corporate men white washing their dirty laundry to make it look eco-friendly.

The 21st Century is in the grip of a fledgling green revolution. A whole army of rebels is fighting the corporate brigade for the environment, making people aware of their crimes against the earth and trying to reform their lifestyle. Do green things and mix with the green folks is the new buzz word. Suddenly it’s a fashionable thing to buy eco-friendly products and invest in eco-friendly companies. Enter the naughty corporations that dangle green carrots to the public while doing not-so-green things behind everybody’s back.

And what of the general public? Fool you once, shame on them. Fool you twice, shame on you! The hard truth is that greenwashing feeds on our “feel good” mentality. We do not ask hard questions least it is revealed that our good intentions were wasted on a spinner of lies. A study into companies boasting of pro-environment products and services came up with shocking results – almost 99% of the claims were white (or green?) lies. Too bad for the 10% who are the real deal, though. Their good deeds are overshadowed by a bunch of rotten apples.
What of the cost of greenwashing? Don’t we end up spending a little more to buy that eco friendly bag and the eco-friendly tourism package? Are we that careless in our other investments, like insurance and stocks? If we put greenwashing through the amount of research we do when we buy cell phones, no false claim will stand up.

One should approach Greenwashing like parents approach prospective son-in-laws. Remember the movie, Meet the Parents? A lie detector test may be a little too severe though, but demanding proof of claims is not beyond it. Dig up all past girlfriends and boyfriends and skeletons in the closet.

Does you super store claim to have “ethically sourced” salmon? Before you go rushing in, dreaming about the tender pink flesh, check the website on details about the so-called ethical source. Do we even know why the ethical source is so important? Does your weekly quota of fish deserve that much of time? If you do not want be washed in green ink, you better make time and investigate.

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Even though we like to laugh at the idea of celluloid villains accessing all private data online, it isn’t actually rocket science to do company background checks. If the amount you are investing is large, it doesn’t hurt to pour a little more money to do research on the so-called ethical company. There are enough discreet firms who will do that for you.

If you a small fry and are dilly dallying about buying that fair trade bananas, do some reading online. Send some emails to organizations like Greenpeace etc. and you will probably know more about free-trade banana then you would ever wanted to know.

Tracking greenwashing is also kind of like tracking family medical history. Who knows whether Great Aunt Martha had some funny disease that can skip generations? Or that your distance cousin in South America has heart problem. Just because a company flaunts a green project in one place, doesn’t mean its not chopping up green forests in another part of the world at the same time. Thanks to the World Wide Web, you don’t really need to be in that particular place to do that research.

The market study we discussed before was conducted by TerraChoice Environmental Marketing, a green marketing agency. They studied products like air fresheners, appliances and even toothpastes – around 1,018 products and their 1,753 claims. Of these, only ONE product, a paper product by a Canadian retailer, managed to validate its claim.

Of course all that revelation now has resulted in a whole generation of “one bitten twice shy” consumers and investors. Changes in our climate and health are now too prominent to wave away and consumers are now aware that any wasted effort is well, a waste of time and effort! For all those who don’t want to settle for the spin, Greenpeace has launched a website called Stop Greenwash. It is designed to provide a platform for all in finding, debating and verifying all green claims. A little browse through the links below will also give a better idea about greenwashing practices.

By Maria Belgado