There are so many decisions to make while in the grocery store and depending on your budget and motivation to choose certain products over others, it can be overwhelming. Furthermore, if you have decided to only purchase environmentally friendly and sustainable products, this decision can be difficult, as identifying these products can be confusing. Are these products “green?” Or, are they only being marketed as green, with confusing labels and messaging on the package? Customers often are not aware that these sustainable products they are purchasing are not actually what they say.
Greenwashing takes place when a company or organization promotes their products and/or services as environmentally conscious, but may actually be impacting the environment in a way that is not made clear to customers. The misleading information on packaging, or other informational content will tell customers about the sustainable and environmental benefits through effective advertising and false claims.
TerraChoice, a partner of Underwriters Laboratories (UL), conducted research in 2010 to find out just how many green products were marketing them as environmentally friendly, while committing at least one “sin of greenwashing.” Their Sins of Greenwashing consist of seven false or misleading claims the green product industry committed. As a result of their research in 2010, 95% of the green products, were committing at least one of the sins. Unfortunately, this leaves only about 5% of all green products actually designed to be environmentally conscious and sustainable.
Follow this link to review the Greenwashing Report 2010
Greenwashing Sin #1: The Sin of the Hidden Trade Off – Marketing a product as ‘green’ based on a small range of attributes, while ignoring other important environmental impacts that may result from the product’s life cycle. As an example, paper that is sourced from a sustainably harvested forest can be marketed as such, while the other impacts such as heavy water and energy use are not included in the product information.
Greenwashing Sin #2: The Sin of No Proof – an environmental claim given to a product that cannot be proven by accessible information supporting the claim, or through third party certification. As an example, products such as facial tissue may advertise themselves as post-consumer recycled content, but cannot provide evidence.
Greenwashing Sin #3: Vagueness – A claim that uses terms that are poorly defined or so broad that consumers may not understand the meaning. Products that claim to be ‘all natural’ can mislead consumers that this is a good thing. However, elements such as uranium, mercury and arsenic are poisonous and dangerous. In this case, all natural, is not necessarily environmentally friendly.
Greenwashing Sin #4: Sin of Worshiping False Labels – At the most basic level, products committing this sin, will use fake labels, information or photos giving the impression of third party certification or endorsement, when in fact, does not exist.
Greenwashing Sin # 5: Sin of Irrelevance – Environmental claims attached to a product that may be truthful, but is unimportant or unhelpful to consumers. A common example is products that claim they are ‘CFC-Free’ (CFC-Chloroflurocarbon). In Canada, CFC’s have been banned since the Montreal Protocol in the late 1980’s. All products should not contain CFC’s.
Greenwashing Sin # 6: The Sin of the Lesser of Two Evils – A marketing technique showcasing environmental and sustainable qualities of a product, that distracts the consumer from the greater impacts of the product as a whole. An example of this sin, could be organic cigarettes, claiming to be ‘organically grown,’ but the largest environmental impact of cigarettes are not the pesticides sprayed on fields of tobacco.
Greenwashing Sin #6: The Sin of Fibbing – claims given to a product that are completely false. An example of this could be home appliances being marketed as Energy Star certified, when they are not.
Eco-labels provide consumers the information they need to make the right choices when shopping for environmentally friendly products. Not all labels are created equal, so it is important to do some research before buying products with eco-labels on them, as we don’t want to commit a greenwashing sin (#4)!