No doubt about it, there is tremendous concern these days for the ecological impact or footprint humans are having on our planet. It is a sad fact of business; where there is money to be made there will most certainly be a flood of individuals and companies looking to make a quick buck at the expense of the consumer. Unfortunately, all the hype surrounding green products and going green has led to many “green” claims that amount to little more than hot air. These days, especially around Earth Day, companies want to be seen with an environmental halo. However, experts claim many companies are guilty of “greenwashing”.
Greenwashing describes the perception of consumers that they are being misled by a company regarding the environmental practices of the company or the environmental benefits of a product or service through the deceptive use of green public relations (PR) or green marketing (through both words and images).
“It’s Not Easy Being Green” ~ Kermit the Frog
It turns out that it is rather easy to claim “green” but it is much more difficult to achieve “green”. In December 2007, TerraChoice (environmental marketing company) gained national attention for releasing a study called “The Six Sins of Greenwashing”. In a study of 1,018 products from six “category-leading big box stores,” they found that all but one made claims that were either “demonstrably false or that risk misleading intended audiences.” and were found to be guilty of greenwashing. According to the study, the six sins of greenwashing are:
- Sin of the Hidden Trade-Off: “Energy-efficient” electronics containing hazardous materials.
- Sin of No Proof: Shampoos claiming to be “certified organic” with no verifiable certification.
- Sin of Vagueness: Products claiming to be 100% natural when many naturally-occurring substances like arsenic and formaldehyde are hazardous.
- Sin of Irrelevance: Products claiming to be CFC-free, even though CFCs were banned 20 years ago.
- Sin of Fibbing: Products falsely claiming to be certified by an internationally recognized environmental standard such as EcoLogo, Energy Star or Green Seal.
- Sin of Lesser of Two Evils: Organic cigarettes or “environmentally friendly” pesticides.
If you are thinking of going green, consider the following checklist:
- Get your facts right, this is not a presidential election. All claims should be backed by evidence. You should not be exaggerating the environmental benefits of your product.
- Don’t present claims as being universally accepted if the science is inconclusive.
- Don’t use pseudo-science or terms that will not be understood by readers.
- Avoid sweeping or absolute claims such as “environmentally friendly” or “wholly biodegradable”. It’s highly unlikely you will be able to prove your product has no environmental impact.
- Shipping goods in from abroad or from the other end of the country does not make them “locally produced”. “Locally” should mean exactly that.
Many companies have thrown their hat into the ring of “green” but the time is fast approaching where they will have to prove it. In the meantime, what can you do? Who should you trust? That is tough because you can’t really take their word for it (biased) and third party agencies are not always unbiased either (often receive payment for the use of seals). Consumer Reports and EnviroMedia have created websites that may be helpful for some product lines but won’t cover everything.
Will the green movement crumble or will it continue to take flight? It will depend in large part to the wiping out of greenwash which may very well require government intervention. Only time will tell.
Image Credit: kevygee