The dark side of sustainability and sustainable travel, greenwashing is the practice of using powerful PR, marketing and advertising to make an unsubstantiated or misleading claim about the sustainability benefits of a product or service. Companies do this so that they appear to be more socially or environmentally sustainable than they really are – and so attract more buyers and make more profit.
Greenwashing has been going on for years, but the phrase was first coined by environmentalist Jay Westerveld in 1986 when we didn’t have such easy access to public information via social media and the internet and it was far easier for companies to hide what they were doing. It’s led to confusion, and diminished our support of companies that are actually doing something sustainably good.
Today greenwashing is on the increase because more of us have started to demand that the products and services we use are genuinely sustainable. A Nielsen poll in late 2015 showed that 66% of global consumers are willing to pay more for environmentally sustainable products – among millennials, that number jumps to 72%.
When it comes to sustainable travel and sustainable tourism, most travellers are wise now to how some hotels greenwash on a daily basis – with the laundry cards they put out inviting us not to have our linens changed for a day, for example, when in reality the hotels are making no effort to being more sustainable; with the use of ‘green’ pictures (such as a nature scene) to suggest a food product is ‘healthy’ when in reality it’s been produced unsustainably and is packed in plastic; or by labelling spa products with vague terms such as ‘naturally-derived’ when in reality they are packed with sulphites and other toxins.
We’ll be looking at the many more ways the travel industry greenwashes in future issues of NOW – if you come across any on your travels, please drop us a line. We actually need to go beyond green hotels, beyond eco friendly practices and beyond sustainable tourism if we are to save people and planet, but meanwhile, the more travellers and consumers demand transparency and independent proof of sustainability claims, the less likely greenwashing will continue.