Patricia Calkins , Xerox global vice president of Environment, Health, Safety and Sustainability

When you’re searching for your favorite laundry detergent in the grocery aisle, and notice the label says “new and improved,” do you ever wonder what’s new – except for the label design?

A similar scenario is starting to play out in the area of what is called green marketing, an effort used by organizations and businesses to promote environmentally responsible aspects of their operations. Is green marketing a good thing? The question recently has gained traction among my colleagues who wonder whether this effort improves the consumer’s awareness of environmental responsibility or dilutes its importance.

With the price of gas fluctuating (mainly rising), the current marketing of hybrid cars can be seen as a success. But there is a fine line between “green marketing” today and what some call “green washing.” If you’re not careful, the line between the two gets blurry pretty quickly.

A very basic example of green washing:  a company begins using environmental messaging in its product packaging without any verified green innovation or benefits attached. It’s akin to calling that laundry detergent “new and improved” without stating why the product is new or improved.

Green washing is not only harmful to a company’s reputation and financial performance, it hurts the environment. The 2010 Greendex survey, which assessed the environmental impact of 17,000 consumers from 17 countries, found that although there was measurable progress in most countries, many consumers said that they were not doing more to adopt a green lifestyle because “companies make false claims about the environmental impacts of their products.”

If you’re thinking about green marketing, the best approach is to weave sustainable innovation into the way you do business every day. Then, marketing efforts could be spent on educating your customers on the advantages of your products and services as well as any green benefits.