Six sins of greenwashing – my two cents

Here’s an interesting take from two bloggers Joel Makower and Andy Savitz about a recent report called Six Sins of Greenwashing by TerraChoice Environmental Marketing Inc.

Green-wash (green’wash’, -wôsh’) – verb: the act of misleading consumers regarding the environmental practices of a company or the environmental benefits of a product or service.

According to the study, 99% of the total 1,753 products claiming to be green were guilty of at least one of the six greenwashing sins.

1. Sin of the Hidden Trade-Off: e.g. “Energy-efficient” electronics that contain hazardous materials. 998 products or 57% of all environmental claims committed this Sin.

2. Sin of No Proof: e.g. Shampoos claiming to be “certified organic,” but with no verifiable certification. 454 products and 26% of environmental claims committed this Sin.

3. Sin of Vagueness: e.g. Products claiming to be 100% natural when many naturally-occurring substances are hazardous, like arsenic and formaldehyde. Seen in 196 products or 11% of environmental claims.

4. Sin of Irrelevance: e.g. Products claiming to be CFC-free, even though CFCs were banned 20 years ago. This Sin was seen in 78 products and 4% of environmental claims.

5. Sin of Fibbing: e.g. Products falsely claiming to be certified by an internationally recognized environmental standard like EcoLogo, Energy Star or Green Seal. Found in 10 products or less than 1% of environmental claims.

6. Sin of Lesser of Two Evils: e.g. Organic cigarettes or “environmentally friendly” pesticides, This occurred in 17 products or 1% of environmental claims.

I agree with Makower that it is depressing indeed that only one product among 1,753 remained pure in TerraChoice’s green eyes. The bottomline is, some marketers will do anything and say anything to part your hard-earned greens from your pocket. False advertising and misleading consumers are definitely a no-no.

However, I’m also in agreement with Savitz about casting the first stone to those products that are not green enough according to their categories, especially those that committed sin #1, accounting for the largest share of “greenwashers” at 57%.

The Sin of the Hidden Trade-off claims that a product should be purely green from all angles not only on the product’s raw materials, production, transportation, and packaging but also covering the producer’s (and maybe even their raw material suppliers’) policies and practices regarding sustainability and environment.

So a recycled paper, it’s original source coming from a sustainably harvested forest, is still not considered green just because the paper additives (which makes them useful) are not sourced from renewable materials; or maybe the truck used to transport those papers uses only 20% biodiesel (80% are petroleum-based); the truck itself exceeds their CO2 emission standards; and the company should have used manual saws instead of power saws that use too much electricity or diesel.

Ok, maybe I’m hyping it up a bit but you get the drift. Just as Savitz said, this “sin” seems to be unreasonable and not only encourage cynicisms among consumers and the media, but also counter-productive for companies’ helping the world to be a better place. Let’s give the real McCoys a break. They’re just trying to do it one step at a time.

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