The 7 ‘greenwashing’ sins

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Buy this product – and you can save the oceans, improve air quality and stop global warming.

Really? Green buyers beware.

Labels are deceptive, environmentalists say, and they are taking to the Net to fight deceptive “green” labels.

TerraChoice, an environmental marketing agency, says that 98 percent of products that claim to be all natural or organic are not telling the complete truth – even as the in-store availability of those products has increased between 40 percent and 170 percent since 2007.

And as consumers get savvier, marketers get trickier.

“The good news is that growing availability of green products shows that consumers are demanding more environmentally responsible choices, and that marketers and manufacturers are listening,” said Scot Case, vice president of TerraChoice. “The bad news is that … some marketers are exploiting consumers’ demand for third-party certification by creating fake labels or false suggestions of third-party endorsement. Despite the number of legitimate eco-labels out there, consumers have to remain vigilant in their green purchasing decisions.”

To warn consumers about the issue, TerraChoice has created the “Seven Sins of Greenwashing”:

The sin of hidden trade-off is when one environmental issue is emphasized at the expense of potentially more serious concerns. Paper, for example, is not environmentally preferable just because it comes from a sustainably harvested forest.

The sin of no proof happens when environmental assertions are not backed up by evidence or third party certification. One common example is facial issue products which claim various percentages of post-consumer recycled content without providing supporting details.

The sin of vagueness occurs when a marketing claim is so lacking in specifics that it is meaningless. “All natural” is an example of this sin – arsenic, uranium, mercury and formaldehyde are all naturally occurring – and poisonous. “All natural” isn’t necessarily “green.”

The sin of worshipping false labels occurs when marketers create a false suggestion or certification-like image to mislead consumers into thinking that a product has been through a legitimate certification program.

The sin of irrelevance arises when an environmental issue unrelated to the product is emphasized. One example is the claim that a product is “CFC-free” because CFCs have been banned by law.

The sin of lesser of two evils occurs when an environmental claim makes consumers feel green about a product category that is itself lacking in environmental health. Organic cigarettes are an example.

The sin of fibbing is when environmental claims are false. One common example is products falsely claiming to be Energy Star certified.

Case said the products most commonly “greenwashed” are children’s toys, baby products, cosmetics and cleaning products.

“The final piece of good news is that eco-labeling is on the rise,” he said. “Legitimate eco-labeling is nearly twice as common as it was in 2007, increasing from 13.7 percent to 23.4 percent.”