Companies are attempting to improve their environmental image, with the onslaught of green advertising, at the quest of pleasing more environmentally conscious consumers. Green marketing has tripled between 2006 and 2008 according to TerraChoice, an environmental marketing firm. Though many companies have made great strides to lessen their environmental impact, others prefer greenwashing or dishonestly portraying products or services as environmentally friendly. TerraChoice has identified seven key attributes or ‘sins’ of greenwashing and reported 98%, of over 2200 products, making green claims had committed one of the seven sins of greenwashing. Beware of these seven sins (though not deadly) they may have you purchasing products with unintended environmental impacts:
- The Sin of the Hidden Trade-Off is when companies make an environmental claim with limited criteria and exclude other important environmental issues. This sin can be seen in products touting energy efficiency but include toxic materials. You can avoid this trade-off by determining whether claims are restricted to one issue and evaluating lifecycle energy consumption, emissions, and materials. You can also look for a meaningful eco-label.
- The Sin of No Proof is an environmental claim that is made without the necessary proof, such as third-party confirmation, to support it. Many products, from food to shampoos, claim they are ‘certified organic’ some without a verifiable certification. To validate claims you can look at the product’s labeling, marketing materials as well as the product’s website.
- The Sin of Vagueness is the use of ambiguous terms that create an environmental claim that can be misleading. The most common violation of this sin is the ‘100% natural’ or ‘all natural’ declaration, this may be true but many naturally occurring chemicals can be toxic (formaldehyde, arsenic and mercury to name a few). First, disregard ambiguous expressions such as ‘natural’, ‘green’ and ‘environmentally friendly’ unless they have supporting evidence. Again, look for meaningful eco-labeling.
- The Sin of Irrelevance is a claim that is unimportant in seeking the environmentally preferable product. For example products claim to be free of chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) despite CFCs being banned over 20 years ago. To avoid irrelevant assertions, determine whether or not similar products can make the same claim. If so, this product is no more ‘green’ than the next.
- The Sin of Fibbing is the use of environmental claims that are untrue. An example of this sin lies (and yes pun intended) in products falsely claiming third-party certification such as Energy Star. Claims such as these can be easily verified with the eco certification itself, often with a simple check on their website.
- The Sin of Lesser of Two Evils is a claim that distracts from the overall negative environmental impact of a product. The ‘fuel-efficient’ sports utility vehicle is an example of this sin. You can avoid becoming victim to this sin by simply asking ‘by nature is this product environmentally friendly?’
- The Sin of Worshiping False Labels is a claim that misleads one through words and images portraying third party certification that does not exist. This can be seen with products that have certification seals with words such as ‘eco-safe’ that essentially have no meaning. You can avoid this sin by becoming familiar with reliable eco-labels such as Energy Star, Green Seal, EcoLogo and Sustainable Forestry Initiative.
For more information on greenwashing and eco-labels, check out: