The problem with greenwash is not just that it's false advertising but that is slurs the name of good business with accredited logos or transparent practices.
The term ‘greenwash’ first hit the headlines in the UK in 2007 and 2008 when series of articles questioned the use of eco jargon in the tourism industry. The UK Guardian reported on the likes of `Responsible Travel’ who were giving consumers the feel-good idea that their package holidays were eco-certified or at least somehow had less of a carbon foot print than other travel choice. Responsible Travel was no more than a reseller of any old tour.
Greenwash Laws & Consequences
The Australian government`s Trade Practices Act is one of the few government organization around the world threatening heavy punishment for misleading environmental terms with guilty parties facing up $1.1 million in fines. In addition, the guilty party must pay for all expenses incurred while setting the record straight about their product or company's actual environmental impact.
Surprisingly countries like Canada and the US offer guidelines but no specific punishment for tour operators, hotels and campsites breaking misleading the public into believing they have eco practices. Although a land mark case in Californian in 2011 prosecuted a cosmetic company for claiming their plastic packaging was bio degradable, more than 98% of `natural ‘products in the US were found to be bogus by the environmental consulting firm Terra Choice. No such study has been done it greenwash in tourism.
The UK government has cracked down misleading eco claims in advertisement by multi-nationals like Shell, and while constantly talking about cracking down on greenwash in tourism and small business, as yet has not agreed on an action plan. The Guardian Newspaper website does have a regular shame list of articles on the topic and Britain’s local accreditations have credibility but the public is cynical.
Already the word ‘eco’ has lost all power and meaning,' says Guyonne James, senior projects manager at Tourism Concern, a UK charity which campaigns against exploitation. “In Brazil, if a bed-and-breakfast has a back garden, they'll call it an eco-lodge. There has been such a proliferation of claims and green labels that as a tourist you really have no idea what's going on.” Many Australians travelling the development world will have noticed the same pattern of eco-dives, organic restaurants and eco resorts everywhere.
How Does it Effect Australia
Within Australia, the cynicism of green wash hasn't stopped tourist, particularly high-end tourist, choosing eco-certified resorts nor has it stopped Australian hotels and caravan parks from evolving into eco-friendly accommodation. The annual revenue for eco-certified operators in Australia in recent years has topped $1 billion.
Ecotourism Australia chief executive Rod Hillman says what was considered progressively ethical is now standard. "The whole industry has taken a significant shift along this spectrum."
Ecotourism Australia is the most recognizable Australian certification (there are more than 80 international certification available on last count). It is a non-profit organization that puts fees towards policing its policies.
Smaller caravans parks which can`t afford the fees often list tangible proof of the eco facilities they provide which might include using grey water on gardens, led lighting and solar hot water. They can be fined and made to retract their claims if they make false claims but this is not why most of these operators choose to reduce environmental impact. Smaller operators find that saving money and green practices go hand in hand, and keeping the environment pristine will keep campers coming back.