Green marketing is on the rise and so is green washing. But what does this really mean?

I work in an office and, like most offices, we do a lot of printing. Does that make us environmentally unfriendly? What if we had a policy of printing only when absolutely necessary, two pages per sheet and double-sided? Would we then be entitled to claim we are sustainable? Or would we have to be entirely paperless?

The reliability of environment claims1 made by businesses is difficult to assess, precisely because a universal easy-to-apply standard is unworkable. Some will consider a hybrid car is eco-friendly, others that it is just less damaging to the environment.

So, when is it ok to say you are green?

Marketing a product or a service is very often about conveying an immediate impression to customers. When you're in the supermarket, for example you're often in a hurry and some companies will take advantage of that. With a logo, a tagline or a picture, companies want you to think that the product or service you are about to buy is "green", "recycled", "safe", "carbon neutral", "sustainable" etc. Green marketing is on the rise and so is greenwashing - making misleading or deceptive environmental claims. They're not always flat-out lies, but can often be gross exaggeration.

So when is it okay to say you are green? You can view the full article recently published2 in Celsias here.

This article first appeared in Celsias and Element e-newsletters and was written by Sebastien Aymeric.


1 Numbered paragraphs at the end of a patent complete specification which define the scope of the invention protected by the patent. The purpose of the claims is to define clearly and with precision the monopoly for which protection is sought so that others know the exact boundaries of protection.

2At some point a patent application is published, meaning its contents are available for anyone to read. In New Zealand publication occurs when a patent application is accepted. However, in most countries publication occurs 18 months after the application is filed.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

James and Wells is the 2010 New Zealand Law Awards winner of the Intellectual Property Law Award for excellence in client service.