November 14th, 2008 by Jennifer Kaplan
In a recent Businessweek article, Kim Jeffery the CEO of Nestlé Water North America, makers of Poland Spring waters, whines (yes, whines) that they are misunderstood and not given the credit they deserve. Clearly he thinks all the charges of greenwash are unfair.
But, are they? The article tells of all the environmentally preferable things that they had done but that no one knew about. The article then goes on to say:
Part of the reason Nestlé Waters wasn’t touting its environmental efforts, according to Jeffery, was that he and the rest of management considered such actions business as usual.
Yes! That’s the point. the “green” things Nestlé were doing were part of normal business operations, many of which saved the company lots of money. Are they good for the environment? Of course. But that’s not really what greenwashing is all about. Its about consumer marketing. This is where the real greenwashing occurs. Before I go on, I want to say that I truly applaud the industry for implementing eco-bottles. That said, it seems to be a blatant case of greenwash to position bottled water as being good for the environment. Water companies should tout eco-bottles, but they shouldn’t suggest that they are good for the environment. They should sell the water, not the the environmental friendliness of the packaging. I would like to ad, that Nestlé is not the worst offender of greenwashy bottled water ads and their ad campaigns are far less offensive than those for Fuji Water and Deer Park.
Nonetheless, these types of ads violate two classic greenwash tactics, as defined by Greenpeace’s Greenwash Criteria:
1) Dirty Business- These ads tout bottled water as a source of environmental reduction! Yet, we all know that the core business is inherently polluting and unsustainable.
2) Ad Bluster – These ads and PR campaigns exaggerate and misrepresent an environmental achievement in order to divert attention away from environmental problems of bottled water. There is nothing about bottled water, other than eliminating the product category, that will truly reduce the impact on the environment.
Several Nestlé bottled water brands, including Poland Spring, advertised their new ecobottles. The bottles have 30% less plastic, and can be recycled (that not any different, they could always be recycled, but why not mention that anyway). they ignore the fact that many still end up in the landfill, or worse on the side of the highway. Anyway, it’s still 70% of the plastic that takes energy to produce and then kicks around in a landfill for 500 years.
The point is that businesses and marketing folks need to be honest about what they are selling. The charges of greenwashing won’t go away until bottled water companies change their advertising and PR campaigns. When they make an eco-advancement they should shout about it. But they should not use it to misrepresent, mislead or divert. As consumers who care about real environmental impact reduction, we need to resist this type of advertising because, as aptly put by Business Ethics, greenwash diminishes the value of legitimate corporate environmental successes and ultimately results in consumer and regulatory complacency. And that ain’t good.
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