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July 26, 2011

P&G, A Big Target of Greenwashing Allegations, Vows to go Sustainable



Procter and Gamble is notable for being the world's largest consumer products company. It owns a variety of familiar household brands such as Tide clothing detergent, Duracell batteries, CoverGirl cosmetics, Febreze air freshener, Pampers diapers, Crest toothpaste and Gillette razors...among many other familiar brands. In fact, 23 of Procter and Gamble's brands earn in excess of $1 billion in annual revenue.

So why is the company the subject of curious attention today? It would appear that the company has pledged to “go green.” Entirely, green, apparently.

The company has launched an ambitious new sustainability plan that has it pledging to (eventually) use 100 percent renewable or recycled materials for all products and packaging, have zero consumer waste go to landfills and “design products to delight consumers while maximizing the conservation of resources.” It has also vowed that (eventually) it will power its plants with 100 percent renewable energy, emit no fossil-based CO2 or toxic emissions, deliver effluent water quality that is as good as or better than influent water quality (in other words, it will leave the water it uses in its manufacturing processes in better condition than when it started) with no contribution to water scarcity, and have zero manufacturing waste go to landfills.

This is a pretty staggeringly tall order for a large multinational manufacturer of consumer goods. And lest you get too impressed, the company has not promised to achieve these goals by next month, next year or even next decade. On its Web site page pertaining to the goals, the Procter and Gamble notes that, “these end-points are long-term in nature because some of them will take decades to come to fruition.”

So, it will take a while before we can determine whether the company means what it says or it's an elaborate form of “greenwashing” (the practice of companies talking up non-existent green credentials in their marketing to try and impress eco-minded customers).

While the company does have something of a sustainability presence already, having established a Sustainability Expert Advisory Panel staffed by academics, non-profit leaders and former EPA officials and helping fund and raise more money for programs such as clean drinking water in developing, it has also been accused of some egregious crimes of greenwashing in the past.

The company has been the target of boycotts by animal rights protesters who accuse it of widespread animal testing for its personal care products. Some argue that a company that makes disposable diapers (P&G owns the Pampers brand) can never be green, and one does have to wonder how it plans to build sustainability into that particular brand. In other cases, consumer groups have challenged the company for not revealing the list of ingredients in some of its cleaning products.

So what do you think? A massive change of heart backed up by good intentions, or one of the most elaborate greenwashes ever conducted?

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Tracey Schelmetic is a contributing editor for TMCnet. To read more of Tracey's articles, please visit her columnist page.

Edited by Jennifer Russell

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