At Cone, “greenlash” and “karma offsetting” (coined by the Cassandra Report to describe those individuals who purchase carbon offsets as a way to assuage guilt about their environmental impact without actually changing their lifestyles) are just two of the new words we’re using when we discuss trends in the environmental movement. So, admittedly, we were more than a little surprised to hear the Today Show’s Al Roker and Meredith Viera introduce an upcoming segment with the acknowledgement that they had never heard the term “greenwashing,” let alone know what it meant. As members of the media, they are presumably more informed than the average American consumer, so their naiveté in this area is telling. The lesson for those of us who work in this space is that we are so immersed in the news and trends, the terminology, the advances and the setbacks, that it is easy to forget not all Americans live and breathe this stuff (yet). In this lies both the opportunity and the challenge for business and environmental organizations.
The charge is to meet consumers where they are with simple, powerful messages, and, at the same time, drive the playing field forward through education and awareness-building. It’s about finding the difficult balance between simplifying the information and still advancing the agenda, between not overwhelming your audience and not underestimating it, either.
Clearly, it’s not an easy undertaking, but it’s a critical one. While some consumers may still be in the nascent stage when it comes to the environment, they won’t stay there for long. Companies are all vying for their attention, and sites such as the Greenwashing Index, that allow consumers to judge for themselves green claims made by advertisers, are taking hold. Those organizations that deliver credible information while demonstrating an authentic and substantial commitment to the environment will serve as trusted resources to Americans in the coming years as new environmental complexities emerge, as “greenlash” intensifies and as all things “green” become as intertwined with Americans’ lives as “pink” is with breast cancer.
-Sarah Kerkian, Former Insights Associate