Who decides what is green washing and what is not?

Moral principles are very much included in the package when we talk about sustainability marketing and green washing. In fact, the whole theme of sustainability has a very strong moral dimension. Of course, sometimes it can be very straight forward to say if some advertisement or product text is flawed or a sham. Even if gross green washing is sometimes difficult to detect since we have limited access and urge for information, the final judgment is quite easy when the real ‘truth’ is exposed. For instance, if an organic milk carton doesn’t include organically produced milk, it would be just wrong. But what if the whole product is ethically so problematic that it is difficult to say if it’s sustainable or not, and even more importantly sustainable for who? Take Monsanto and its approach on sustainability and food production for instance. Their approach is exactly the opposite of organic food trend what is prevailing in many countries at the moment. In brief, Monsanto is the biggest genetically modified seed producer in the world and they brand themselves as ‘A sustainable agriculture company’. They use technology, genetic engineering and biotechnology to produce agricultural products that have more reliable and bigger yield, and use less resources water, soil etc. In many parts of the word GM food is highly debated but still permitted, like in EU.

However, I don’t want to talk about my moral standpoint on GM food. Instead, I would like to stress the fact that green washing might not be green washing for every one. A supporter of organic farming methods is most likely to disapprove everything Monsanto is doing; their marketing strategies, business – everything. But what about the farmers who benefit a lot from the reliable and bigger crops? Their welfare increases and they finally can spend more time with their families, send their kids to school and all other stuff that has been difficult without GM seeds. What about those consumers who are concerned over the shortage of food and think that GM food is the key to solve global hunger? For them, it is a matter of ethical debate, not green washing. If the philosophy behind the product is so much different, how can we set clear guidelines for judging what is green washing and what is not? If we agree that GM food is unfavorable, then Monsanto would be accused of fibbing, hidden trade-offs, vagueness etc. But if the opposite, then it would be totally ok to brand and market their products as ‘sustainable’. Since we don’t yet know the long-term effects of GM food, it is hard to rely on any reliable facts about its sustainability and make judgements.


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