Growing consumer concern over the environment too frequently translates into greenwashing strategies instead of a corporate culture that has genuine concern for the planet. This is unethical and must change, says Angelo Nicolaides, Professor of Business Ethics at Unisa..
Writing in the latest issue of the ‘IMM Journal of Strategic Marketing’, the magazine of the Institute of Marketing Management (IMM), he observes that this approach is not surprising, given that there’s ample evidence of consumers being willing to pay more for products and services that they deem to be friendly to the environment. For example, a 2008 survey of US restaurant customers showed they were happy to pay 10% or more for food and beverage items sold by businesses engaged in green observances.
Sadly, says Nicolaides, many companies are tempted to promote their highly questionable claims in the knowledge that consumers may not easily be able to assess the validity of their claims. “Honesty is undoubtedly the best policy in dealings with all stakeholders and even ‘white’ lies are unacceptable, no matter how insignificant they may appear to be,” he states.
The most famous recent example of a greenwasher being found out is that of Volkswagen, which rigged 11-million diesel engines with software that tricked emissions tests, allowing the cars to spew out far more pollutants than allowed. Noted the ‘New York Times’: “No matter how hard Volkswagen works to resolve this crisis, the episode is likely to live on in infamy as the latest and perhaps most egregious example of greenwashing.”
Says Nicolaides: “Businesses need to substantiate all the claims they may be making about ‘green’ products and services, ‘environmentally friendly’ goods and ‘sustainable’ practices, since these will be scrutinised by environmental watchdogs, certification agencies, consumers and other organisations bent on exposing unethical practices.”