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Greenwashing Earth Day

I had the unique pleasure of spending Earth Day in New york City where, it seemed, that plenty of people were celebrating the “holiday.” One of the things I noticed: The way so many of the companies marking the occasion were giving out stuff that wasn’t good for the environment. Sure, some people had their hearts in the right place. Amtrak gave out free hats in Penn Station, for example, but plenty of others were handing out plastic Frisbees, plastic mugs, and paper. Lots and lots of paper. I guess that’s not as bad considering the outright greenwashing (saying a product or company is environmentally conscious when it’s not) that often goes on in corporate America. As a story today in the Harvard Crimson points out some of the companies that claim to be the greenest, most environmentally friendly are actually doing the most damage to the earth.

Last year 24/7 Wall St. put together a list of the top ten greenwashers of America. I’m not going to regurgitate the list. You can click through to read it. It’s made up of mostly energy, oil, and chemical companies as well as a paper company and an automobile manufacturer. The WebEcoist also created a 2009 list. Again, click through to read it. You’ll notice that Dow Chemical made it on to both lists. Today I read another greenwashing award story, and not much has changed in a year. Dow Chemical, called out for its egregious greenwashing in 2009 is yet again on a list — this one written by The Wall Street Cheat Sheet. Dow Chemical, according to the story, actually sponsored an Earth Day event — Live Earth’s Run for Water event — and yet that sponsorship was only a drop in the bucket compared to all the money it spent paying fines levied for air and water pollution.

So what’s my point? As you walk around trying to make good decisions for the environment think before you buy. Companies can tout their greenness as much as they want, but it’s up to us to make sure they are doing what they say. As a recent USA Today article points out, we have to do the legwork and vote with our wallets. A product might say it’s environmentally sound, but if it’s packaged in plastic and lots of it look for another option.

What products have you left on the shelf lately because they seem too green to be true? What’s your biggest eco pet peeve?

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