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Is Silicon Valley Guilty of Greenwashing?

A modern commercial begins with a lush field, pristine mountains, and a beautiful waterfall, as soothing music plays in the background. However, after all that natural scenery, something a bit less, shall we say, organic appears: a BMW roaring down a highway. This type of nature-focused branding is nothing new. Companies such as Wendy’s and Pepsi, which don’t come directly to mind when thinking about the environment, have added sustainability sections to their websites. Whether as a cynical PR move or a righteous attempt at corporate responsibility, more and more big names are trying to go as green as possible.

This is because, on a cultural level, we have grown much more accepting of environmental initiatives. Since 2010, brands with environmental messages have grown significantly, with 85% of people receptive of companies that utilize sustainable practices. And you can definitely see this in everyday commercials, where auto companies will highlight their gas mileage or where manufacturers will boast their products’ recycled materials.

However, not every company that attempts to convey a sustainable message is being 100% truthful. In fact, many brands attempt to reap the rewards of an environmental message while hiding their less than sustainable practices. This trend is known as greenwashing and is a major issue with companies claiming to be environmentally friendly without backing it up.

A great example of this is Universal’s 2012 release of The Lorax, a film based on the environmentally-themed Dr. Seuss book. While the film itself mostly maintains this message, the co-branding attempts of the film greatly undermined any kind of green initiative. The Lorax character would pop into commercials for the Mazda CX-5, for example, an SUV with average gas mileage, in an attempt to make the vehicle seem more eco-friendly. The commercials even awarded the car the fictional “Certified Truffula Tree Seal of Approval” in an attempt to hammer that message home.

The Rainforest Alliance is another case of mainstream greenwashing. The company – whose stickers are featured on a number of different products (including Chiquita bananas) – aims to project an air of environmentalism, right down to its Red-Eyed Tree Frog logo. However, this company has also been accused of false advertising, as in a December 2014 lawsuit Rainforest Alliance was called out for allowing its certified farms in Guatemala to use chemical fumigation harmful to surrounding communities. In addition to accounts of contaminated drinking water, one source reported seeing “aerial fumigation over schools and homes.”

Greenwashing is clearly a prevalent issue. But how do you avoid it? For many household items, you can simply look for an official certification from a trustworthy nonprofit, such as the Green Seal. However, within the tech world it can be a bit more difficult. This is because questions about sustainability are looming within the tech community, with the environmental approaches of certain brands being particularly vague. Looking through 100 different Silicon Valley companies, including Facebook and Google, the Center for Sustainability and Excellence found less than 30 percent actually released detailed sustainability reports between 2013 and 2016.

Luckily, there are some resources available to see through greenwashing in the tech world. For instance, the Climate Counts website has set up environmental “scorecards” for various companies, including everything from appliance manufacturers to airlines. Additionally, Greenpeace has introduced the Click Clean Scorecard, which gives the websites you visit a letter grade depending on the company’s eco-friendliness.

While there are definitely some tech companies that are lacking when it comes to environmentalism, there are others with a more proactive approach. One company that has made eco-friendliness a top priority is Google, which plans to run on completely renewable energy in the year 2017. The company has also teamed up with startup Aclima to outfit its Street View cars with additional sensors that can track pollution.

eBay is another Silicon Valley company that has put sustainability at the forefront. However, it’s not so much in how they power their business as what they do with their business. The company itself constitutes a wonderful promotion of sustainability, as the ability to easily sell used belongings rather than have them end up in a landfill is very environmentally conscious. However, eBay is attempting to tackle sustainability in a way that’s the exact opposite of greenwashing – that is, being subtle about its initiatives. Instead of hitting you over the head with an environmental message, eBay is looking to praise the renewable practice of buying used items after purchase by thanking the customer for his/her sustainable action.
Even the aforementioned Apple, previously accused of sustainability issues, appears to be improving, working on concrete plans to develop wind turbines for manufacturing its products and on renewable energy initiatives in Asia.

Something important to keep in mind is that the old theory that sustainable business can’t be profitable is false. In fact, a report by the nonprofit CDP (previously known as the Carbon Disclosure Project) has revealed that companies that make environmental responsibility a priority are actually more successful than those who ignore it. In particular, companies with an emphasis on climate change have had a 67% higher return on investment than competitors that do not release information on emissions. In fact, among the companies the CDP reviewed, Silicon Valley brands like Google, Hewlett Packard, and the newly sustainable Apple ranked near the top. Considering the profits of those three companies, more tech businesses should realize that going green doesn’t mean their books will be in the red.

While it can be difficult to find out which companies are the most eco-friendly, supporting those with proper sustainable practices is a great way, as the saying goes, to vote with your dollar. It’s not easy keeping an environmentally conscious lifestyle, but by utilizing the proper research tools and showing companies that eco-friendly practices are more than just an advertising opportunity, areas such as Silicon Valley will start to take sustainability more seriously.

Featured Image Courtesy of Pixabay

Author Bio: Innovation & Tech Today features a wide variety of writers on tech, science, business, sustainability, and culture. Have an idea? Send it to submit@innotechtoday.com

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Is Silicon Valley Guilty of Greenwashing?

June 19, 2017
By I&T Today

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