I was first introduced to the term "greenwashing" at the 2007 Step It Up Rally in Arlington while talking to Wendy Rieger of The Green Room blog about Vanity Fair's Green Issue.
"Do you think they really care about the environment," Wendy asked, "or is it just another example of greenwashing -- companies pretending to be green to move product?"
It's a terribly hard question to answer. Are companies just doing the best they can? If so, can you blame them?
I faced that dilemma last month when Yahoo launched Green.Yahoo.com. I got emails from several friends and even Yahoo itself asking me to help spread the word.
But the greenwashing question nagged at me.
Maybe it was the Ford ads displayed prominently on the page. Not one. Two. In fact, every page on the site has a Ford ad on it.
Granted, the ads were touting the Ford Escape Hybrid SUV. But the Ford Escape averages around 33 miles per gallon -- the same as my 1999 Saturn SL2 sedan, which isn't even a hybrid. (The failure of U.S. automakers to develop fuel-efficient vehicles deserves its own post another day, but we'll stick to greenwashing here.) The site also launched with a contest to give away Ford Escape Hybrid SUV taxis.
The Yahoo Green site links to the Yahoo Autos Top 100 Green Cars page. The rankings somehow have the 2007 Volkswagen New Beetle, which gets an appalling 23 miles per gallon city, as the #25 most green car with no additional explanation.
The more I looked at the site, touting compact fluorescent light bulbs, composting, and other very nice things, I started to wonder ... where was talk about carbon emissions?
Nowhere on the site can I find any mention of the need to cut carbon emissions 80% by 2050 to limit the effects of global warming.
There's no mention of the Yahoo Green page anywhere on Yahoo's front page.
The more I looked at the site, the more I wondered. Was it designed to promote environmentalism? Or to sell Ford Hybrid SUVs?
The bottom line -- buying green involves the same principles as any other kind of smart shopping. Don't take claims at face value. Ask tough questions. Do your research.
Got a suggestion for Genuine or Greenwashing? Let me know!