Tuesday, April 28, 2009

A Seventh Sin of Greenwashing is Added

If you follow anything related to energy or the environment, you're probably familiar with the term "greenwashing." Greenwashing is an allegation that someone or something (like a company) is making exaggerated or misleading claims about its environmental initiatives, the greenness of its products, energy use, services, or technology. Basically, the company is trying to appear more environmentally friendly than it truly is.

A few years ago, TerraChoice Environmental Marketing created a list that we green communicators and marketers should have taped next to our computers: the Six Sins of Greenwashing:
  1. Hidden Trade-Off: “Efficient electronics” made of toxic materials.
  2. No Proof: “Certified organic” shampoos, but with no verifiable certification.
  3. Vagueness: Claiming “100% natural” when many natural substances are hazardous, like arsenic.
  4. Irrelevance: Claiming to be CFC-free, even though CFCs were banned 20 years ago.
  5. Fibbing: Falsely claiming to be certified by an environmental standard, like Energy Star.
  6. Lesser of Two Evils: Organic cigarettes (still not healthy!)
Now, TerraChoice has added a new, seventh sin of greenwashing to the list: The Sin of Worshiping False Labels.

This happens when a company mimics a third-party certification label to try to get consumers to buy their product.
TerraChoice gives an example of an aluminum foil with "certification-like images" with the name of the company’s own in-house environmental program - but with no further explanation.

So with many consumers turning to third-party endorsements to help them determine the best green products, now we have to be even more vigilant as to which certification labels are on the products. Some tried-and-true third party labels include the Forest Stewardship Council, Energy Star, and USDA Certified Organic. If in doubt, I found a handy website called EcoLabeling.org, which aims to list and describe all the green certifications, accreditations and seals in one place. You can search by country and type of product you're researching. It's handy, but consumers will no doubt have to be even more discerning when a green seal is spotted.


Via GreenBiz.com and TerraChoice

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