Sustainability: Cut the Greenwash

In an effort to keep the public from being duped by ads that might be little more than greenwash, the Norwegian government is putting a ban on car manufacturers from describing their cars as "green" or "environmentally-friendly" in their advertisements. Unless they can prove that claim without a doubt, which is close to impossible.

Even the Prius, a car that probably is a great deal better than most other options on the road right now, will have to give up its eco-slogan of "the world's most environmentally-friendly car." At least other makes of hybrids that don't get nearly the same mileage as the Toyota poster-car, at least not in this country, won't be able to jump on the green bandwagon. Norwegian consumers will just have to decide for themselves what the environmental impact of a car would be.

Reuters reports a senior Norwegian official claims the car manufacturers "seemed happy" about the new rules. Somehow I'm having a hard time believing that. There's no way these companies are happy about being told they can't put a positive spin on a product that's one of the biggest contributors to greenhouse gas emissions. Judging by the number of companies that have used the now-banned descriptions in the past, I'm sure they'll miss taking advantage of this latest craze in advertising buzz. Or maybe things just work differently in Norway.

Although cars aren't mentioned specifically, a recent column in Newsweek did an excellent job of outlining all the greenwash out there in this country. It is remarkable how much the public and the media fawn over even the smallest (and often most fruitless) attempt to "go green." I'll admit I've succumbed to such claims on occasion, although I try to be a bit more critical. Perhaps with all the dire warnings of the potential disasters global warming can cause, we all want to believe someone out there is making a difference.

Should advertisers curtail their use of eco-friendly jargon? Does using such words amount to false advertising?

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