I am going to start this post with a story. In 2005, an ex-employee and self-appointed ‘green’ vigilante accused sustainability-minded beer maker, New Belgium Brewery, of ‘greenwashing’. No company wants to hear that, especially a small business with green cred, one that publishes carbon footprints for its six-pack. The accusation – the Colorado-based brewery was misleading its customers with the claim that it is 100% wind-powered. The problem was two-fold. Firstly, the utility that New Belgium purchased its power from, switched buying from wind farms to purchasing carbon offsets. The second blow, and the more grievous of the two, was that producing, bottling and selling its Fat Tire beer was not powered entirely by renewable energy. The bottles, for example, are sourced from suppliers that use fossil fuels and require much more energy to produce than the beer itself. The ex-employee took these issues to the local media and got results. In 2011, New Belgium changed its message to ‘Wind Powered, Employee Owned’. The current message is ‘Alternately Empowered’, reflecting their inclusion of solar and bio-gas into their energy portfolio. Unfortunately for New Belgium, the scandal tarnished their green image for a long time.
Something very interesting is happening in Californian courts. In a class action suit filed in a District Court in , a group of individuals claim that the bottled water maker, FIJI Water Company, has been misleading customers by making false carbon offset claims. Their cause for complaint is that FIJI Water’s assertion that it makes a “carbon negative” product is blatantly untrue. “Carbon negative” would mean that FIJI removes more carbon from the atmosphere than they generate, which is based more on clever accounting than reality. In another case, SC Johnson, the household chemicals giant, was sued for placing a non-verified eco-label on their cleaning fluid, Windex. The label, Greenlist, created a false impression of being third-party approved when it was only meant for internal use. What links the two cases is that companies are being held accountable for false “green” claims, “eco” exaggerations and deceptive advertisements , otherwise known as “greenwashing”. Continue reading