Study: 98% of Products’ Green Claims Are Misleading

Greenwashing: “the act of misleading consumers regarding the environmental practices of a company or the environmental benefits of a product or service.”

mentos-fresh-freshly-pickeg-strawberry-gum-green-greenwashingThis, unfortunately, is no suprise to us. a.k.a Green’s philosophy was born out of a passion for environmental advocacy and since we carry only green building products in our showroom, you can imagine the product research is exhausting. Jeff Frost (our eco-product guru) has spent many of late night peering into his laptop screen to collect the research data to determine the ‘green-ness’ of potential products.

We’ve had to turn down offers and products simply because their claims don’t carry weight and in some cases, are clearly misleading. To us, the act of greenwashing is incredibly frustrating and in the long run does so much more harm to the environment (and movement) than good. Below links to an excellent article:

bookAbout the Study: In 2009, TerraChoice released the follow-up study, the Seven Sins of Greenwashing to present new and significant trends that have emerged since the first study. This year’s research includes even more ‘big box stores’ in both Canada and the U.S. and more products studied. The second edition of the study also gives closer examination to product categories of special interest to consumers — toys/baby products, cosmetics and cleaning products.

What are the 7 Sins of Greenwashing?
1. Sin of the Hidden Trade-Off:
If a product claims to be green in one sense, but ignores other significant impacts, the marketers sin. According to TerraChoice: “Paper, for example, is not necessarily environmentally-preferable just because it comes from a sustainably-harvested forest. Other important environmental issues in the paper-making process, including energy, greenhouse gas emissions, and water and air pollution, may be equally or more significant.”

2. Sin of No Proof: If you can’t prove it with reputable third-party verification, you can’t claim it, according to TerraChoice: “Common examples are facial or toilet tissue products that claim various percentages of post-consumer recycled content without providing any evidence.”

3. Sin of Vagueness: Terms such as “all-natural,” “environmentally friendly” and other vague or unregulated descriptors can mislead consumers. TerraChoice points out: “Arsenic, uranium, mercury, and formaldehyde are all naturally occurring, and poisonous. ‘All natural’ isn’t necessarily ‘green’.”
greenwashing data

4. The (new) Sin of Worshiping False Labels: Often, a product has an official-looking seal, but the seal is meaningless because it is dreamed up by the product marketers themselves, without any application of third-party standards.

5. Sin of Irrelevance: If a claim is true, but doesn’t distinguish the product in any meaningful way, marketers have sinned. According to TerraChoice: “‘CFC-free’ is a common example, since it is a frequent claim despite the fact that CFCs (that’s chlorofluorocarbons — the chemical that depletes the ozone layer) are banned by law.”

6. Sin of the Lesser of Two Evils: Even if a green marketing claim is true — the cigarette is organic, or the SUV has a hybrid engine — it fails this TerraChoice test if the claim fails to recognize the overall harm caused by the product. The SUV may get better mileage than others in its class, but still achieve dismal fuel economy when compared to other vehicles; the cigarette, however organic, still causes lung cancer.

7. Sin of Fibbing: Simple. It’s a lie. Some companies will go as far as claiming to be certified organic or Energy Star-certified, but cannot back up the certification.

So, now as someone who wants to support real environmental products, what else can you do?  Well, reading the report was a good start, but you can also get more in-depth information by reading this article.

~ by akagreen on April 17, 2009.

2 Responses to “Study: 98% of Products’ Green Claims Are Misleading”

  1. You might also be interested in this alternate view of the report:

  2. There was a good episode of King of the Hill that deals with greenwashing, I wrote about it here:

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