Report: ‘Greenwashing’ Runs Rampant

by | Apr 16, 2009

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greenwashing-sins2Green products are proliferating so quickly, and adding so many new consumer claims, that TerraChoice has increased its listing of greenwashing sins from six to seven.

The latest, “worship of false labels,” describes product marketing that mimics third-party environmental certifications. The other sins of greenwashing are: lack of proof, vagueness, irrelevance, lesser of two evils, hidden trade-off and outright lying.

When TerraChoice put together its newest report, “The Seven Sins of Greenwashing: Environmental Claims in Consumer Markets” (PDF), it found that the number of big box store products making green claims grew 79 percent since its last report, in 2007..

In the United States and Canada, TerraChoice found 2,219 products making 4,996 green claims. TerraChoice then tested claims against best practices from the U.S. Federal Trade Commission, the Canadian Competition Bureau, the Australian Consumer and Competition Commission, and the standard for environmental labeling set by the International Organization for Standardization.

TerraChoice reports that 98 percent of the products committed at least one of its sins of greenwashing. Only 25 products tested in the U.S. and Canada were found to be “sin-free.”

What TerraChoice calls legitimate eco-labeling has doubled in frequency. Legitimate eco-labeling now appears on 23.4 percent of “green” products in the report, as opposed to 13.7 percent last year.

The report finds that green claims are most common in kids toys, baby products, cosmetics and cleaning products.

The report said that research showed similar patterns of “greenwashing” in the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom and Australia.

The amount of advertising of green claims is on the rise. Looking at 18,000 ads in recent issues of Time, Fortune, National Geographic, Sports Illustrated and Vanity Fair, TerraChoice found that more than 10 percent of all ads in 2008 made some sort of “green” claim. That’s up from about 3 percent in 2006.

TerraChoice is a third-party consulting firm that runs the Canadian government’s eco-labeling program. Other customers include Canon and Husky Energy.

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