An appreciation for environmental protection has matured steadily in recent decades. With increasing concerns over the environment comes an increasing popularity of greenwashing. Consequently, companies whose actions do not match their environmentally-friendly promotions may mislead consumers in terms of the environmental benefits of a product or service. This essay explores possible reasons of the visible boom in greenwashing and claims that Nike, a sportswear and equipment supplier, deserves the accusation of greenwashing.
Ⅱ.Reasons for Greenwashing
Clearly, the widespread popularity of greenwashing arises in the pursuance of reputation and sales.
A recent survey conducted by Advertising Age indicates that 78% of customers prefer eco-friendly corporations to companies that are reckless with the environmental issue (Berkeley Media Studies Group 2008, p.2). The result of this survey serves as an incentive for companies to greenwash. Moreover, greenwashing definitely yields fruitful results for these companies. In a survey conducted by Landor Associates, BP, a corporation being accused of greenwashing, is considered to be more environmentally friendly than its counterparts, with its voters surpassing that of Shell by 6 per cent (Solman 2008, p.
24). Most importantly, greenwashing helps BP promote sales from 2004($192 billion) to 2006($266 billion) (Solman 2008, p.24). With such a prime example of greenwashing, no wonder other companies follow in BP’s footsteps.
Ⅲ.Nike’s official claims
Nike claims that it regards environmental protection and humane management as part of their corporate responsibility. Primarily, several claims are made regarding environmental content of its products. Nike claims that T-shirts it sells in the US contain 3 per cent organic cotton and 90 per cent of its shoes are free from toxic glues, cleaners and solvents (Beder 2002, p.25). On top of that, it asserts that it eliminates the use of polyvinyl chloride (PVC) from its shoes (Beder 2002, p.27). Furthermore, it also advertises regarding good working conditions and happy workers in a Vietnamese factory (Beder 2002, p.25).
Ⅳ.Analysis of Claims
It is doubtful whether Nike really produces clothes with 3 per cent organic cotton and 90 per cent of shoes are without toxic glues, cleaners and solvents. Rather than manufacturing its own products, Nike is only responsible for designing and marketing them and there is no supervision of the manufacturing process (Beder 2002, p.27). Furthermore, in order to promote credibility, Nike has the claim endorsed by United Nations. However, it turns out that United Nations do no monitoring of the claim made by Nike, either (Beder 2002, p.26). Consequently, Nike has no certification for this claim it makes. Therefore, there is no guarantee that the official claim regarding the environmental-friendly content in sportswear will be more than empty rhetoric. Due to the lack of valid evidence and certification, Nike’s claim considering the sportswear’s content commits the “sin of no proof” (TerraChoice 2007, p.8).
Nike’s claim regarding PVC-free shoes may not be a true reflection of the fact. In a press conference, Soon after Nike’s repeated assurance regarding the PVC-free shoes, Greenpeace (a reliable organization against PVC) has claimed that Nike’s search for an alternative substitute for PVC have barely begun (Beder 2002, p.27). Given the fact that research has not lasted long, it is very unlikely that Nike is manufacturing shoes that are free from PVC, which makes this claim turn out to be a false claim. Nike commits the “sin of fibbing” (TerraChoice 2007, p.9) .
Inconsistent with its advertisement, workers may not be so happy and contented in the Nike’s factory since Nike is definitely unkind to them. Nike is deceptive regarding comfortable working conditions. Specifically, in Vietnamese Nike plants, workers are exposed to carcinogens at 177 times safe levels and paid $10 for a 65-hour work per week (Beder 2002, p.27). Such differences between Nike’s claims and its behaviors are called bluewashing, which is categorized as one kind of greenwashing.
Bluewashing refers to corporations that wrap themselves in the flag of human rights and labor rights, while their actions are quite otherwise (Corpwatch 2001, p.2). Furthermore, there is no uniform definition of happiness. Not only does the company misuse workers, it also makes a vague commitment because happiness is a feeling that varies from person to person. Such ambiguity proves that Nike commits the “sin of vagueness” (TerraChoice 2007, p.9).
While Nike fails to realize certain official claims, it improves the environment and sustainability. Specifically, Nike claims that materials used in shoeboxes are 100% recycled and these shoeboxes weigh 10% less than those made up of non-recyclable paper (Stoner 2006, p.4). Nike helps alleviate deforestation by using recycled materials, thereby contributing to sustainable development and environmental protection. On the other hand, while Nike spends $1.13 billion on advertising and promoting the reputation of its products in 2003, it only donates $100,000 since 1998 to education programs for Nike workers. Compared with charity, it seems that much more funds are invested in advertising. The endeavor to greenwash far outweighs the effort to assume social responsibility. Hence, Nike is still greenwashing.
Overall, this paper reports that there are some reasons for companies to greenwash and even though Nike makes some effort to protect the environment, it has every reason to be accused of greenwashing. The reasons for most companies whose actions do not conform to their environmentally-friendly claims are simple: the pursuits of profits and goodwill. Despite Nike’s contribution towards environmental conservation and sustainability, several official claims regarding working conditions of employees and raw materials of products lack of evidence and clarity. Owing to the proliferation of greenwashing, customers should consider the environmental impact rather than advertising and packaging when shopping.
Beder S, 2002, ‘Putting the Boot In’, The Ecologist, April, pp. 24-28. Berkeley Media Studies Group, 2008, ‘Food Marketers Greenwash Junk Food’, Adweek, March, pp.1-3 CorpWatch, 2001, ‘Greenwash Fact Sheet’, CorpWatch, pp.1-2 Solman G, 2008, ‘Coloring Public Opinion?’, Adweek. January.14, pp22-24 Stoner C, 2006, ‘Corporate Greenings: Nike’, Peakinsight, pp. 1-13 TerraChoice Environmental Marketing Inc. 2007, ‘The Six Sins of Greenwashing’, November, pp.1-12