Are businesses required to only fulfill economic duties, or are they expected to take on a social or philanthropic responsibility as well? Corporate responsibility is an unanswered business ethics question with many dimensions and green washing falls right into this. There are many tradeoffs required between business and sustainability, but luckily, businesses are built upon social institutions and must fit into certain expectations set by society. With each new generation, there are growing concerns about the environment and efforts towards sustainability and companies are recognizing that consumers are getting smarter and beginning to see past haphazard attempts to fake environmentally friendly products. Hopefully this pushes companies to be more transparent and truly more sustainable in order to maintain their environmentally minded consumer base by being among the fewer companies that can be true to their statements.
As informed citizens about the environment, or just as people who try to make a small change to benefit our world, purchasing products that are labeled as “green,” “environmentally friendly,” or “sustainable” seems like an easy step to take in order to make a difference. Unfortunately, making lifestyle changes to be more sustainable is difficult or inconvenient in the average person’s busy life, so purchasing the “environmentally friendly” version of items is one of the more convenient ways to still remain environmentally conscious and feel as though we are making a change or a difference.
Even the smallest of changes, such as purchasing reusable water bottles or biodegradable alternatives can be extremely beneficial. However, the very dark reality of trying to be more sustainable is that we, as consumers, don’t really know if the products we’re buying are or do what they claim. This concept is called green washing and it is when companies exaggerate or flat out lie about their products being environmentally friendly.
Green washing is truly a very dangerous practice in business strategy when it comes to sustainability. It leaves consumers confused and conflicted over what products and brands really are sustainable and which are giving out false claims. People may become complacent about trying to be more environmentally minded because they can’t decipher between the reputable companies and the ones with ulterior motives. This could lead to people giving up all together on trying to make changes to their lifestyle to benefit the environment. Sustainability will suffer because businesses are taking advantage of people and their attempt to make conscious choices regarding the environment. They make it nearly impossible for consumers to make informed decisions and choose the “right” products.Companies have made lots of money out of peoples’ acts of good faith and in turn used it to market environmental sustainability when in fact, they were among the largest pollutant outputs. By falling into the trap of green washing, the illusion of sustainability is created, when this may, in fact, be far from the case.