Greenwashing - An Advertising Professional's Insights
A recent commentary in Adweek addressing greenwashing in the advertising industry warns that if new regulations are being implemented to curb greenwashing this would negatively affect innovation in the industry.
The author of the story, Ronald Urbach, writes that the Federal Trade Commission's decision to update its standard rules on 'green' marketing one year ahead of schedule are welcomed by professionals in the advertising industry so long as they don't cut back on the sector's competitiveness.
Urbach, who is the co-chair of the advertising, marketing and promotions department of law firm Davis & Gilbert, points out that the debate about sustainable marketing/advertising is stranded is about the issue of 'product packaging'. This appears to comprise both material and immaterial issues, with the immaterial ones being company offerings of carbon offset programs and renewable energy certificates. The latter two issues were addressed by a special FTC workshop at the beginning of this year, outlining where consumers could be misled about the actual environmental benefit of such programs/certificates.
Despite the wildgrowth of confusing, even conflicting messages in the marketing arena, Urbach is not too happy about stricter rules. He warns that "implementing further government regulation would likely have a chilling effect on an advertiser's ability to communicate important and valuable information to consumers -- and might actually contribute to making our environmental problems worse by stifling innovation." He also says "Advertisers have every right to promote their green credentials, and it is important that companies feel the responsibility to do so and to become part of the environmental solution, even if their sense of responsibility may arise more from an attempt to seize a sales edge than a desire to save the world." Perhaps that latter statement indicates where the divide between companies/advertisers and customers/government rules is.
The environmentally friendly product sector has been estimated at around $230 billion recently by the National Marketing Institute. That's quite seizable, putting the green products firmly in the mainstream markets' league. (And the green products market is still growing. It's estimated that 80% of Americans check out a company's environmental properties before purchasing.)Two comments on Urbach's article. -I wonder whether he agrees at all that clarity actually benefits the debate. Without rules, companies run the risk to be found misleading consumers even if they did not intend to do so. In other words; companies might need as much protection as consumers in the current situation where end users are overly sceptical.
-I wonder what the advertising industry thinks about consumers. A recent TerraChoice study have shown that as much as 90% of all green marketing of products carried misleading information and any action to set some sort of standards would definitely not be impoverishing this scene. Information about good products already is to a large extent distributed via free networks like the Web2.0, which is a clear signal that information provision is not dependent on financing. Further underscoring this is the accuracy of information which in many cases is not sponsored at all. Bloggers have long left commerce behind it seems, interacting directly with each other about what's recommendable and what not.