Greenwashing Affects 98% of Products with False Labels


According to a report on the Seven Sins of Greenwashing released today by TerraChoice Environmental Marketing, between 2007 and 2009, the in-store availability of so-called 'green' products has increased between 40% and 176%, with 98% of products surveyed still committing at least one Sin of Greenwashing.

Greenwashing is defined as the act of misleading consumers regarding the environmental practices of a company or the environmental benefits of a product or service.

Greenwashing is changing in creative ways. As a result, a new sin has been identified and added to the original 2007 Six Sins of Greenwashing. The 'Sin of Worshiping False Labels' means that some marketers are mimicking third-party environmental certifications on their products to entice consumers to buy.

The Seven Sins of Greenwashing, from most common to least common, are:

  1. The Sin of the Hidden Trade-Off occurs when one environmental issue is emphasized at the expense of potentially more serious concerns. In other words when marketing hides a trade-off between environmental issues. Paper, for example, is not necessarily environmentally-preferable just because it comes from a sustainably-harvested forest.
  2. The Sin of No Proof happens when environmental assertions are not backed up by evidence or third-party certification. One common example is facial tissue products that claim various percentages of post-consumer recycled content without providing any supporting details.
  3. The Sin of Vagueness occurs when a marketing claim is so lacking in specifics as to be 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.'
  4. The (new) Sin of Worshiping False Labels is when marketers create a false suggestion or certification-like image to mislead consumers into thinking that a product has been through a legitimate green certification process. One example of this Sin is a brand of aluminum foil with certification-like images that show the name of the company's own in-house environmental program for which there is no explanation.
  5. 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', since CFCs are banned by law.
  6. 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 benefits. Organic cigarettes are an example of this Sin.
  7. The Sin of Fibbing is when environmental claims are outright false. One common example is products falsely claiming to be Energy Star certified.

The report also investigated the state of greenwashing in the United Kingdom and Australia, including examining almost 1,000 products in each of these two countries, revealing that greenwashing is an international challenge.


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