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Tue, Dec. 16th, 2008, 11:18 am
The Truths About Greenwashing

Image linked from EcoShopper.net, this is the posterchild of a greenwashed product. I thumb my nose at this website.

Greenwashing (noun): The practice of making an unsubstantiated or misleading claim about the environmental benefits of a product, service, technology or company practice.1

In December 2007, TerraChoice released a study called "The Six Sins of Greenwashing," which found that out of 1,018 common consumer products randomly surveyed for the study, only one was not guilty of making a false or misleading green marketing claim.

The 6 sins are as follows:

  • HIDDEN TRADE-OFF -- This is when a company highlights one aspect of production as an environmental benefit while downplaying its drawbacks. A good example is marketing a product as being "harvested from a sustainable forest", but failing to note that the forest is thousands of miles away and products have to be shipped in gas guzzling trucks.
  • SIN OF NO PROOF -- Claiming to be environmentally friendly without any certifications or evidence.
  • VAGUENESS -- The example given is insecticide labeled as 'chemical-free'. Water is a chemical. A marketing claim should say on the label WHY it was labeled in such a way. Beware of words like "all-natural" and "earth-friendly".
  • IRRELEVENCE -- So it is CFC-free. That means nothing considering CFCs are all illegal. Sort of like having "trans-fat free bacon", which means little because bacon is saturated fat.
  • SIN OF LYING -- This is most often done when claiming to have some made-up certification. "Certified green" doesn't mean anything if the manufacturer is the one doing the certifying.
  • LESSER OF TWO EVILS -- Sometimes the manufacturers will try to make a consumer feel better about choosing an environmentally unhealthy product. All cleaners are bad for the environment, but you'll feel better about buying a 'friendlier' version rather than attempting to use less cleaner.

There are watchdog websites already in place, such as GreenwashingIndex.com, where consumers can report potentially misleading advertisements.

But really, the best advice I can give you is the three Rs. REDUCE, REUSE, RECYCLE.

1Frontdoor.com Green Terms
Wikipedia.org: Greenwash
TerraChoice Original Report PDF -- good reading if you want to know more