What is Greenwashing?

by Roger on May 1, 2008

by Roger | May 1st, 2008  

Since ecotourism has become such a hot potato there is frequent talk of greenwashing within the travel industry yet it’s not always entirely clear what that means.

green-paint-and-bruch.gifDefinition of Greenwashing

To whitewash over something is to cover the cracks so when people talk about whitewashing over the issues they mean that the real issues aren’t being dealt with. Therefore, when people refer to things as being greenwashed, or mention greenwashing, it means that consumers are being misled by false advertising while the real environmental and ecological aspects are ignored.

Big Business

Greenwashing happens frequently, on a grand scale. Today’s travel industry is rife with businesses who claim to have given their company an eco-friendly facelift while doing next to nothing about their environmental impact. And because ecotourism is one of the fastest growing sectors of the travel industry everyone wants a piece of the pie.

It’s clear to see why those involved in the travel business want to be seen as green. Eco anything is in fashion. It’s almost becoming unsociable for hotels not to be green in some way, it’s like everyone wants to be part of the popular gang, even if in actuality they quite like who they are. But eco is niche, and like oil in certain parts of the world, a resource that hasn’t been fully tapped into. And so, it pays to be green.

To them it’s just good business sense. If people want ecotourism, they’ll get ecotourism. Whether their businesses really are eco-friendly or not is another thing entirely.

Travellers Go Green

A recent Deloitte survey found that nearly half of all travellers try to make environmentally-friendly decisions while travelling with almost a quarter of those surveyed willing to pay more for green accommodations and transport. Another poll carried out by Travelocity revealed that up to three-quarters of travellers were happy to pay a little extra cash for eco hotels and tours.

The travel industries knee-jerk reaction is to say they are providing travellers with greener holiday options when in fact they are doing a whole lot of nothing for the environment.

There are a number of green/eco directories on the web that list hotels as being eco-friendly yet have no vetting procedures in place to ensure the hotels do or are what they say they are, so even a logging company that skins cats at tea break can add their plastic moulded hotel to a directory and tick all the boxes that say they’re eco-friendly and BANG, from then on these boys are green.

Green Expectations

While it would be wonderful if the entire tourism industry turned green overnight we all know the likelihood of that is slim. Too many hotels, tours and businesses were set up before eco-friendly notions washed over the world like a freak tsunami. And no one really expects the entire industry to be green. Yes, it’s great that many businesses employ some measures to lessen their environmental impact but small tokens do not maketh green.

To be genuinely green requires an understanding of the bigger issues, enthusiasm for change and a lot of effort. Many tours and companies adopt the minimum criteria for eco labelling yet don’t act environmentally responsible and because hotels, tours and travel businesses are leaping on to the global green bandwagon with reckless abandon, it only raises suspicion and makes it difficult for those businesses who are practicising ethically.

Thankfully, many travellers are wising up to the fact that it takes more than a few light bulbs to qualify for eco accreditation and soon the greenwashers of the travel trade will realise that they can’t pull the wool over everybody’s eyes. Eventually they will have to admit that they’re not as green as they make out to be or set about changing their ways. Either way, the game’s up.

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