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Alphabet Soup, Part 4: Greenwashing

Elizabeth Baldwin

Time for another definition, part of the "Alphabet Soup Series," looking at terms common in the world of wood. Remember, please, that I take requests for new definitions!

"Greenwashing" is to coat something in the veil of being 'green' when it really is not 'green' or at least not as 'green' as the claim that is being made for it. In the worst case, it's outright fraud-making a fake claim or lying about a characteristic-and in the most ridiculous case, it is simply using the color green on a package and expecting that to be enough. However, in most cases, it's a sleight of hand (or a sleight of marketing), where the consumer is misled into thinking something has special environmental features that make it better then competing products. Sometimes advertised feature is insignificant, while other times the product has a legitimate 'green' aspect but many other negatives which of course are not mentioned.

Another word used for this practice is called "the green sheen," which often refers to greenwashing a corporation rather than product. Many companies will try to give themselves a "green sheen" but their environmental practices only go a thin veneer deep.

In a similar practice, politicians (and companies) often "wrap themselves in the flag," coating themselves and their needs in the red, white and blue of patriotism.

I have also heard of "bluewashing," where companies "wrap themselves in the blue flag of the United Nations in order to associate themselves with UN themes of human rights, labor rights and environmental protection."  And I heard another one the other day: "sweatwashing," where a company tries to disguise or spin unfavorable labor practices such as the use of prison or child labor.

So clearly we can find bad practices hiding under the coats of many colors beyond white. In the next few posts, I'm going to take a look at some specific types of greenwashing in the wood flooring industry.

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